A couple of weeks ago Daniel and Abby were helping me change the hymn numbers. We also had to take out the card on the top of the hymn board that said CHRISTMAS and change it to EPIPHANY. Daniel asked what that word meant. I explained that it was like that moment when you are working on a very complicated math problem and you suddenly GET IT – AHA!!! Any time you have that AHA moment, when you suddenly really understand something or realize something: that is an epiphany.
During the season of Epiphany, we are treated to reading after reading of people suddenly GETTING IT! Jesus is indeed the son of God! Jesus is indeed the Messiah! Aha!! We start the season of Epiphany with the three wise men arriving to be astounded by baby Jesus. Aha! Then we’ve had descriptions of Jesus getting baptized where God himself proclaims Jesus to be: “my beloved son, with whom I am well pleased.” Aha! We’ve heard stories of Jesus walking along asking people to follow him and they just drop everything to immediately go with Jesus – they GET IT! Aha – Jesus is the Lord!!
The most powerful epiphany I’ve ever had was the moment I met Kevin. I looked at him and immediately knew, deeply KNEW, that he was the one for me. I had been widowed only 4 months earlier and my heart was broken open, broken in two. I believe that I had this epiphany partly because my heart was broken open and my defenses were down.
And today we have this story of two old Jewish people with open hearts worshipping in their temple who drop everything when Mary and Joseph come in with baby Jesus. It is forty days after the birth of their baby and time for Mary to be purified and Jesus to be dedicated. This Jewish law comes from Exodus 13:2 “Dedicate to me every firstborn among the Israelites. The first offspring to be born, of both humans and animals, belongs to me.”
They are also fulfilling the law from Leviticus 12: ‘On the eighth day, her son must be circumcised. Then, for the next thirty-three days, the mother is impure (incidentally, if the baby is a girl, the mom is impure for sixty-six days!). After the proscribed time, the parents an animal or birds to be sacrificed.’ Because they were poor, Mary and Joseph can’t afford a lamb, so they bring turtledoves.
So how is this story an epiphany? Well, let’s walk with them: Joseph and young Mary are in the outer courtyard of the temple in Jerusalem.
Remember that this is THE temple – God himself resides there. It is huge: the temple plaza was the size of 29 football fields! Must have been intimidating. Joseph pays for two turtledoves while Mary soothes her infant. They enter the dark, imposing structure, crowded with all kinds of people. As they walk forward, they are approached by a very old man, Simeon. He has struggled to get to the temple that day, over the hot, uneven cobbled streets, too many stairs. Ay, he was tired! But he comes every day, as he has been promised by the Holy Spirit that he will not die without seeing the Messiah. Suddenly Simeon has an epiphany. The Messiah is here!
Simeon approaches, tears streaming down his withered face. “May I hold him?” asks the ancient man. After a pause, both Mary and Joseph nod and Simeon takes the child in his arms and sighs:
“Now, Lord, you can let me, your servant, die in peace as you said. I have seen with my own eyes how you will save your people. Now all people can see your plan. He is a light to show your way to the other nations. And he will bring honor to your people Israel.”
Imagine how Mary and Joseph must have felt. What an AHA moment they were having! The angels, the wise men, the shepherds all told them that Jesus was special and now, here they are in the grand temple and this wise old man is telling them again. Simeon continues, and this time his words are much scarier:
“Many Jews will fall, and many will rise because of this boy. He will be a sign from God that some will not accept. And the things that happen will be painful for you—like a sword cutting through your heart.”
Now, Anna was a very old widow who lived day and night at the Temple. She worshiped God by fasting and praying. Her special gift as a prophet was the ability to see into the future. She hobbled over to Mary and Joseph with a look of awe on her face (or should we say a look of AHA?) She began to praise God for this tiny baby and proclaimed to all who could hear that this baby Jesus would save Jerusalem!
It is impossible to imagine how Mary and Joseph reacted to these proclamations. Everyone keeps telling them that this baby is incredibly special. Of course, we all think our babies are special – why do you think so many babies in Mexico are named Jesus and Maria? But most parents are not being told by strangers that their little boy is God. Phew! After they finish their business at the temple, Mary and Joseph return home to raise this special little boy.
We’ve just celebrated the sweet, lovely season of Christmas with all the joy and wonder of a new baby born in a manger. The season of Epiphany really hammers the good news home: that little baby is, in fact, the Messiah, the incarnation of God in human form. This incredible idea is so impossible to assimilate, we need weeks of lessons driving that one point home.
Faith in Jesus just slammed into Simeon and Anna today. As soon as they were in the presence of that little baby, they knew with complete certainty that they were in the presence of God. Aha!
Most of us don’t get the gift of immediate and absolute faith. We get little tantalizing glimpses into the world of our Lord. We attend church week after week, we sing joyfully and proclaim our faith and maybe occasionally we have little belief epiphanies, little glimmers of deep faith.
Today I ask all of you to be open to those glimmers. When I met Kevin, my heart was broken wide open. Come to the world with an open heart, open to seeing Christ around you. Show Christ’s love to others every day. Be open to feeling the love of Christ as expressed by those around you. When you feel that love, you are indeed, feeling God. Open your hearts to God so that you too can proclaim: ‘AHA!!’