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A colleague opened a meeting with a prayer, “God, we know that you reveal far more than we are able to receive or even notice. Forgive us for missing so much of your revelation. Open our eyes so that we truly see what you are revealing to us each day.”
This prayer so caught me by surprise that I missed a good bit of the committee meeting that followed. I was wondering what revelation from God I had missed that day, and the day before, and the day before that.
We tend to think of epiphanies as big unmistakable events. How can you possibly miss divine revelations like the pillar of cloud by day and fire by night? The water turned into wine at the wedding of Cana? The tongues of fire on the heads of the apostles at Pentecost?
But, of course, God chooses to reveal in ways both big and small. Surely, epiphanies happen, sometimes, in big headliner events. But sometimes epiphanies happen in small and insignificant hints of divine presence and action. And epiphanies sometime happen in profound ambiguity, hiddenness, and contradiction. And finally, sometimes epiphanies happen in odd and unusual juxtapositions, the glimpse of God when seeming opposites encounter each other.
Several weeks ago, the Epiphany readings from the New Testament were the story of the Magi from Matthew 2:1-12 and a cosmic Christ text from Ephesians 3:1-12. The juxtaposition is one of small narrative details encountering enormous cosmic claims.
The narrative of Matthew presents the step by step progress of the narrative. The emotions of the actors are included; Herod’s suspicion, fright, and paranoia are key details of the story. The disposition of the wise men is revealed—they were overjoyed when the star indicated their journey’s end. Here is a narrative text of particular details, characters, emotions, actions, and results.
Now consider the cosmic, expansive, universal reach of the Ephesians 3 text. It contains no narrative details, no human interest features. This writer does not linger on small details like Matthew did—this this writer, instead, slaps great gobs of paint on a huge canvas of God’s plans and purposes.
One of the biggest claims of all in this reading from Ephesians is verse 8, “Although I am the very least of all the saints, this grace was given to me to bring to the Gentiles the news of the boundless riches of Christ.” Here is the blockbuster event that Paul saw so clearly—God’s love and grace extend beyond the chosen people to all the world, to all the big, wide world.
In this season of Epiphany, we need both of these texts—the one which considers small narrative details and the other which paints a vast canvas of God’s intentions. The minute and the massive, in a bristly dialectic. An affirmation of both the cattle shed and the cosmos.
Some Christologies mute the mundane and the material and an ethereal Christ emerges—one who certainly was not born with an umbilical cord.
And then, some Christologies mute the cosmic Christ and focus solely on the earthly Jesus and what emerges is another impressive first century itinerant teacher who fell afoul of the political machinery of Roman occupation.
We need both of these texts to hone our perceptions of God’s revelations in all our days. We need the detail of Matthew’s narrative to pay attention and we need the sheer expanse of the Ephesians text to lift our gaze up and out and beyond to where God is leading.
My colleague’s prayer is now my own, “God, we know that you reveal far more than we are able to receive or even notice. Forgive us for missing so much of your revelation. Open our eyes so that we truly see what you are revealing to us each day.”