After 6th January the Church year is now called “Ordinary Time” which is a pity, because we have lost, what was formerly the Epiphany Season, providing the worshipper with a number of weeks to contemplate step by step the revealing of Jesus to the world. This is a crucial preparation for the next journey through Lent to the passion and death of the Son of God and Son of man.
During this season we use the word “Manifesting” rather than the Greek word “Theophany” to reflect on this revealing. In a sense everything Jesus did on earth is a revealing of the mystery of his divine life at work. St Paul explains this to the Ephesians, “indeed you have heard of the dispensation of the grace of God which was given to me for you, how that by revelation He made known to me the mystery by which, when you read, you may understand my knowledge in the mystery of Christ” [Eph 3;2]. Some of the Gospel manifestations are especially important for faithful reflection before Lent and these are beautifully expressed in the Epiphany hymn of Charles Wordsworth 1807-1892, a bishop in Scotland. “Manifested by a star by the sages from afar… manifest at Jordan’s stream, prophet priest and king supreme… manifest in power divine changing water into wine”. This most important time before Lent takes us step by step beyond the ordinary and by God’s grace to understand the divine life at work.
After Pentecost, the apostles understood why the Baptism of Jesus by John was the beginning of the events that were to reveal the meaning of the Lord’s coming. It was a new age; God speaks no more through the voice of Prophets but directly through his “beloved Son”. The new age of the Triune God was confirmed at the river bank by the overshadowing of the Holy Spirit and the voice of God the Father. This earliest Gospel itself reflects the mind of the apostolic age that was itself totally overshadowed by and dependent upon the same Holy Spirit of Pentecost. Thus it is a bold starting narrative by St Mark, no birth stories or genealogies, but the voice of the last prophet, recognising that Jesus was the Christos and crying in the wilderness, “prepare the way of the Lord”. The urgent simplicity of this beginning conceals other important signs for reflection. For example, in the baptism, Jesus himself consents to another act of submission, just as his parents had done in the temple for him as a child. He, who has no need of John’s baptism, will identify with humanity. He descends into the water just as he descended from heaven and would finally descend to the place of death.
Here was no earthly Caesar with a raised sword and legions at his disposal, no Monarch with courtiers but a Saviour. As with other events in his human life, Jesus reveals the same life and death struggle that makes him so uniquely and utterly different to any other religious leader for his life on earth is a battle against the culture of death over which he must triumph. It is the beginning of the recognition by the first disciples that everything had shed light on God’s plan for those who had eyes to see. The Epiphany season is a time to turn on the light in our souls, to read and mark in Holy Scripture the account of God’s loving purposes, to see the contrast between the dark world of our disobedience and the light that comes to us through our redeemer the Holy Child of Bethlehem who goes on to reveal his divinity even through suffering and death.
Fr. Geoffrey Neal