The word “epiphany” is a virtual transliteration from the Greek word for “revelation” or “manifestation.” It’s not an accident that our Liturgy celebrates 3 such events in succession (and once upon a time, all on the same day): the visit of the Magi, the Baptism, and the Wedding at Cana. The first was an epiphany to the Magi, the second at least to John the Baptist, and the third especially to the disciples. The antiphons in the Liturgy of the Hours (aka, Breviary) beautifully wraps these three together
But let’s dig a bit deeper. The Magi found a baby in a house with its Mother. John saw what easily could have been regarded as a thunderclap and a bird settling on Jesus; the disciples saw that the party could continue. For this day, let’s concentrate on the Magi and the child.
We are used to thinking of the epiphany to the Magi as a glorious sign in the heavens—a combination of comet and supernova and planetary conjunction—one that could not be missed (unless you were Herod and his crew). Epiphanies for us tend to be less dramatic. Perhaps that’s why we, too, very often miss them. It leads me to think of the beginning of a poem by William Blake, his “Auguries of Innocence”: To see a World in a Grain of Sand/And a Heaven in a Wild Flower/Hold Infinity in the palm of your hand/And Eternity in an hour.
How many “epiphanies” are all around us, that we miss or ignore? We can find Blake’s World and Heaven and Infinity and Eternity in many other things, as well—a friend’s smile, a shared meal, the song of a bird, the grateful eyes of someone served dinner at a soup kitchen—if we have eyes to see. A couple of weeks ago I saw a fox in the rectory yard—the first one I have seen in over 10 years, and I was thrilled. Was it an “epiphany”? Yes, if it led me to praising and thanking God (which it did) for the beauty and wonder of all creation. Jesus knew and understood this: it’s why His teaching is filled with the simplest of things—the “lilies of the field,” sparrows, wandering sheep, mustard seed and yeast, loaves and fish…
Let’s try to be open to all the “hints” the Lord drops—the “vestiges” or “footprints” of His loving presence, as St Paul called them (Romans 1:19-20; see also Wisdom 13). Signs are all around us, and perhaps we ourselves might be able to be a sign, a manifestation, of God’s goodness to others. What a joyful possibility, to have the opportunity to be an epiphany to someone in need!