Even on this day, as when we were waiting for God’s transformation of the world, we can miss the illumination. As often as not the illumination we seek is obvious and at the center while the epiphany we get is on the periphery just out of sight.
The Epiphany comes to us as odd foreigners speaking of an obscure star they saw. These same foreigners visiting an infant with rare gifts.
Enlightenment comes as an ordinary man, by appearance, who comes to the river baptized by a man in camel hair along with everyone else. Then the heavens are opened, Spirit descends, a voice speaks, or was it?
Epiphany is tasting excellent wine suddenly discovered after the momentary crisis of having no wine as the head steward of a wedding feast. But only the servants know what happened, they poured water into jugs and when the drew out the water there was wine. A parlor trick? For a very exclusive audience of servants.
This manifestation is not a sudden clear insight. What is manifest isn’t blindingly and unambiguously clear. It’s not entirely convincing. It’s queer. Boundaries have been crossed and it takes place out of the way on the borders. It’s in our peripheral vision, and never quite comes into focus.
The Epiphany is odd. It is disconcerting, because such an illumination tells us the truly important doesn’t happen at the center: center of power, center of ourselves, center of meaning.
The Epiphany doesn’t give us a place of residence. The manifestation sends us again on our way. Our illumination on this day sends us to live unsettled at the boundaries.
What is revealed on Epiphany is a god who embraces the “neither nor” and the “both and”. We are invited to meet one who is neither human nor divine, who is both human and divine. At this moment, we are invited into this transgression of the order of things. The mixing of creator and created for the sake of love.
If we affirm the doctrines of “incarnation”, “Virgin Birth”, “Trinity”, “Fully God and fully human” and “begotten not made” we should not do so because of their intellectual or philosophical power to convince. Rather we should affirm these dogmas because they give voice to our epiphany, our enlightenment and encounter with God. The Epiphany shows us that these doctrines describe something queer, transgressive. This all though is seen just out of the corner of our eyes. They point to what we can’t quite grasp but can intuit. A flash of light, a voice an appearance of a dove.
I invite us to speak of incarnation and virgin birth, and say Jesus of Nazareth is fully divine and fully human. I invite us to do so not to grasp an insight, but to be embraced by the transgressor of our creaturely limits. Allow this speech, and this contemplation to take us to the borders. So, we may live with God on the edges, in that place between human and divine. This borderland is the place of the one who was honored by Magi and who enraged the powerful. In this place, we are with the Beloved in whom God is well pleased. I invite us to come to the Jordan, take up residence on the edge of the empire. It is in the borderland where love was revealed, and God affirmed God’s love and union with human kind and all creation. In this transgression of flesh and divinity we are illumined.