Twelve days ago, we celebrated the birth of Jesus. The announcement of “good news of great joy for all the people” comes with a visible “sign.” In the case of the birth narrative in Luke 2, we see “a child wrapped in bands of cloth and lying in a manger.” We celebrate this moment as the beginning of when, according to John, “the Word became flesh and lived among us,” and according to Paul, “Christ Jesus, who, though he was in the form of God, did not regard equality with God as something to be exploited, but emptied himself, taking the form of a slave, being born in human likeness.” Matthew, drawing from Isaiah’s vision of liberation and restoration, understands Jesus as Emmanuel, “God with us.”
In Wholehearted Advent, I offered a series of reflections leading up to Christmas on the critical relationship between lifting up the groans of the oppressed and suffering and God’s response of coming down to be-there as liberator, the one who promises to set right all that threatens life from flourishing. Before shalom (peace/flourishing) is possible, we must voice our pain and listen to the voices of those in pain. Such cries break through the numbness that keeps us in bondage and unmasks the deception of dominating powers that would have us believe no other way is possible. Such cries dare to hope in the imagination of prophets who are able to see what could be but what is not yet. Our “hope in what we do not see” refuses to be silent in the face of what we do see that claims to be all there is – the status quo, systems of power-over, communities that harm the vulnerable to maintain their own stability and comfort.
Today marks the Feast of Epiphany, and begins a season that leads up to Lent and Easter. Epiphany celebrates the manifestation or revealing of Jesus as God-with-us. The Christian tradition roots this great reveal in two early stories of Jesus’ life. The Western Church highlights the Magi who, following a star that appears as a sign, are guided to Bethlehem, and encounter Jesus, “the child who has been born king of the Jews.” They see and trust a sign, just as the world sees and is invited to trust that Jesus is indeed the Savior who will liberate and shepherd people toward shalom. The Eastern Church highlights Jesus’ baptism as a moment of great reveal that God is with us and the kingdom has come near. As Jesus “came up from the water, suddenly the heavens were opened to him and he saw the Spirit of God descending like a dove and alighting on him. And a voice from heaven said, ‘This is my Son, the Beloved, with whom I am well pleased.'” Again, the gospel writers invite the reader to see the truth about who Jesus is at the outset, because as we follow Jesus through his life, our trust will be tested. Jesus often defies expectations, and his disciples are often confused about “the Way” – how God’s kingdom comes, how shalom is ushered in. Jesus asks, “Do you still not perceive or understand? Are your hearts hardened? Do you have eyes, and fail to see? Do you have ears, and fail to hear? And do you not remember?”
My hope is that we press into the season of Epiphany, we ponder in our hearts the revealing of Jesus as God’s chosen way of liberation. Maybe, as we listen to the groans of Advent, we will wake up and see the path of salvation. That’s the invitation: hear, see, trust, follow.
Each week during Epiphany, I am excited to feature a guest who will share with us their vision of shalom – what is “not yet” but could be – and what they see “already” taking place – first fruits of the labor of justice. I invited these visionaries to share to help energize our own imagination for what is possible and how we can participate in the “already” that paves the way for the “not yet.” These are people to whom I imagine Jesus saying, “But blessed are your eyes, for they see, and your ears, for they hear. Truly I tell you, many prophets and righteous people longed to see what you see, but did not see it, and to hear what you hear, but did not hear it.” Their voices and lives are important signs pointing to the way of Jesus at work.
Image: Amanda Gorman delivered her poetic vision for a better future at the presidential inauguration on January 20, 2021. Quote from “The Hill We Climb.” Visit her website and/or watch her performance.