The Gifts of Epiphany: What Will You Manifest?

Today marks the Feast of the Epiphany, the start of a generous seven-week season marking the transition between the thirteen days of Christmas and Ash Wednesday.

The name Epiphany carries an abundance of connotations: revelation and realization and disclosure and manifestation, all with an element of surprise – a illumination of insight in which everything is transformed.

So it is celebrated in ‘sacred time.’ In ‘profane’ time, January 6th last year marked another form of disclosure and manifestation and surprise altogether, here in the United States: Hours after Georgia confirmed the improbable victories of Senate candidates Reverend Raphael Warnock and Jon Ossoff —my home state’s first Black and Jewish senators, respectively — a demonstration of Trump supporters amassed on Capitol Hill in Washington DC, with the stated intent of contesting the results of November’s presidential election.

A smaller subset of these protesters made an incursion into the chambers of Congress, with the apparent intent to capture or kill members of government who were confirming the electoral vote, a normally-ceremonial matter that had been turned into a final loyalty test to the outgoing President. Many of those who broke windows and rushed police barricades to enter the building went so far as to bring zip ties, weapons, and a noose with them, but seemed to lack the skills and/or gumption to follow through with their intentions, instead settling for strange and at-times gleeful photo ops.

What’s most troubling to many is that the capitol police seemed either unprepared or unwilling to stop the mob from carrying out whatever it was they wanted to do, and the President refused to call in the National Guard. This unprecedented overthrow attempt led both Republican and Democratic members of the House, and Vice President Pence, to fear for their lives and hide, as capitol police sought to regain the building.

Over sixty police officers were injured, and five people died. Then, the riots more or less ran out of their own steam, leaving the nation and the world wondering what had just happened…and what would happen next. In the year since, four more officers on the scene died by suicide, and somehow investigations into this insurrection attempt have become a highly partisan matter.

What happens when our highest spiritual values feel so impotent in the face of this-worldly troubles?

Pastor Ken Sehested names this tension, writing for Prayer and Politiks:

For those formed in the rhythm of the Christian liturgical calendar, Epiphany’s occurrence on 6 January is teeming with lustrous directives. And now, on the first anniversary of the 6 January 2021 insurrection at our nation’s capitol, the contrast of faith in-the-manner-of-Jesus with that of the apostasy of White/Christian nationalism could not be clearer.

In the aftermath of last January’s attack, Pope Francis observed: “Even in the most mature state there’s always something that doesn’t work, people who take a path that’s against the community, against democracy, against the common good. But thank God that this broke out and that one can see well [what happened] because in this way there can be healing.”

From revelation, healing. Ken continues:

“My long-standing, blessed friend, Kyle, a pastor in East Texas, sent me a note shortly before Christmas, closing with, ‘I used to wish people a blessed Advent and a Merry Christmas. Now I wish them a happy apocalypse.’

This is the context of the 6 January dueling announcements of insurrection. The accent on ‘apocalypse’ is not catastrophe but disclosure and unveiling. The truth will indeed set us free: not to lounge on some exclusive resort beach, margarita in hand; but to collaborate, with other people of faith and conscience, in the resistance movement…”

I agree. In some strange ways, this climate of intrigue, revelation, and uncertainty mark our original Epiphany story as well: Mary and Joseph are visited by a series of successive surprises, beginning with the shock of their pregnancy in and of itself, which Mary receives, full of faith and defiance of empire.

But then – as the story goes – the empire strikes back: this primordial New Covenant couple find themselves in a reverse-Exodus: fleeing Bethlehem for the safety of Egypt, with the child Jesus in tow, a family of refugees from the Roman proxy King Herod, who cannot accept that someone might succeed him as rightful ruler. This insecure functionary uses intimidation and even infanticide to keep himself from being replaced!

But a collection of wisdom figures, ‘Magi from the East’ — outsiders, magicians, likely renegade Zoroastrians from Persia — discern the language of celestial bodies and know that the anointed king they seek dwells beyond the borders of acceptability. Herod wishes to co-opt these magicians into his own spell of power-maintenance, and (perhaps out of weakness, perhaps out of cunning) they pay lip-service to his reconnaissance request. But upon discovering the Christ child, adoring him, and offering their gifts of gold, frankincense, and myrrh, they heed a dream-warning: Return home by another way, steering clear of Herod’s increasingly-unhinged dictates.

(If you’re new to the story, well, as humorist Dave Barry says, I’m not making this up. You can read it for yourself in Matthew 2:1-12.)

Sound familiar?

  • Promised liberation – the thrill of hope.
  • The old order flexing its muscles one last time before its certain futility – exile.
  • Dreams, signs in the heavens, intuitive gifts and obedience to magic – keeping the emancipatory dream alive.
So what’s a waking-up human to do with this Epiphany?

We want, as Pope Francis and Pastor Ken encourage us, to embrace apocalypse (revelation, unveiling), resist injustice, and actively collaborate for the common good. Of course. This goes without question.

As Pastor Ken puts it:

“Biblically speaking, when you talk about heaven you’re liable to raise hell. This is our [good-news] announcement: The bias of Heaven is manifest toward the disfavored and the disfigured. Epiphany’s insurrection…confronts every arrangement of enmity and domination.”

Yes and amen. I agree without hesitation.

But can be tempting, in a ‘gospel’ of achievement, to only ask what gifts we, too, can lay at the feet of Christ. No doubt a thousand sermons will be preached this week (as they are many weeks) begging this very question. And indeed, it’s sometimes appropriate to reflect on what ‘time, talents, and treasure’ we’re offering to God and neighbor in the life-cycle of our interconnected planet.

But this can’t be all there is, especially after a year of pandemic, justice reckoning, and political instability have left so many of us so drained. Paul writes to the first-century Galatian collective to “not grow weary in well-doing,” but how?

The great news is, the grown-up Christ Child upends this mindset of univocal servitude. Jesus himself asks us, in language subversively-but-accurately rendered by the late Eugene Peterson:
Are you tired? Worn out? Burned out on religion? Come to me. Get away with me and you’ll recover your life. I’ll show you how to take a real rest. Walk with me and work with me—watch how I do it. Learn the unforced rhythms of grace. I won’t lay anything heavy or ill-fitting on you. Keep company with me and you’ll learn to live freely and lightly.
– Matthew 11:28-30, The Message.

The opti-mystics of our lineage are the keepers of this happy news, of resistance flowing from renewal, new creativity emerging from the other side of chaos. This synergy reflects the upside-down message of God’s kin-dom — turning traditional religious subjects and objects inside-out.

Rather than abasing and aggrandizing ourselves in one fell swoop, seeing ourselves (by the dim light of our own stumbling virtues) as ‘wise’ and in a position to give Jesus something he doesn’t already have, what if we take our union with Christ seriously, and allow ourselves to receive?

Embracing the biblical narrative not only as something that happened, but as something that is happening, what Epiphany is the newly-rebirthed Christ child, the ever-young God, seeking to gift us with in this new year?
  • What ‘gold’ are we willing to enrich us?
  • What ‘frankincense’ are we willing to breathe?
  • What ‘myrrh’ are we willing to let in, under our skin?

If you found yourself in a weird time-stopping limbo this year (as I did), skipping right over the usual New Years’ ‘resolutions,’ consider this your invitation to a sacred pause.

What gifts might the reborn Christ have in store for you this year?

For me, one of the ‘gifts from the East’ I’m seeking to receive is this pearl of Buddhist wisdom:

If you’re falling, go ahead and dive.

When I’m faced with a year of continued climate crisis, an ongoing pandemic that claimed my own mother’s life, and the stresses of attempting to parent, work, and live into apocalyptic times as though ‘everything’s fine,’ I’m tempted to crawl under a rock and be a ‘no’ to what’s going on. But what if, as my friend Tara Bruce likes to ask, things aren’t happening to me but for me?

When Christ — disguised as my life — gifts me with something that at first blush I don’t welcome, it can be so counter-instinctual to dive into what I haven’t chosen.

What’s the alternative, though? The temptation is to grasp onto what I perceive I’m losing – to steady myself on what’s passing me by.

But what does this get me? Misery!

Pain is unavoidable, but suffering is uniquely borne of resisting what-is. It’s just so much flotsam and beach-sand when strong currents rush around me. Best to make myself as hydrodynamic as possible, and entrust myself to the very River of Life to carry me through.

What are the swimming lessons? How quickly can I — as Jesus encourages in one of his trickier teachings — agree with my adversary quickly?

Fear-driven muscle-memory might try to kick in, upon experiencing the disorientation of a brutally unwelcome currents of circumstances, and I’ll sink like a stone.

Can I instead relax this habitual clenching of my inner being, to try something different just for a moment? Might I find that I can float?

Embracing this season as a willing dive seems to be just the Epiphany for this moment.

Because let’s face it: Globally, nationally, and in so many of our more intimate localities and lives, this past year or so has been…there’s no polite way to say this…a $#!t-show. So many of us in pastoral, prophetic, care-giving and good-neighborly roles…those of us who seek to honor the Greatest Commandments…find ourselves in Jesus’ circle above:

Tired, worn-out, and burned-out, on bad religion and good alike.

In the face of this fatigue, will I react or respond?

What might come from allying with this unexpected pain in my life, befriending it instead of be-foeing it?

Could my declension become my expansion?

Could my mind’s wince become my heart’s gaze?

Maybe, maybe not!

When I feel caught in a spiral of ‘stinking thinking’ that my dread is an elevated Oracle, Seer and Sage, can I take a deep breath and — as my friend Randall Worley likes to ask — question my answers?

Pain is unavoidable, but suffering is uniquely borne of resistance. And joy can be found in flowing with the unexpected.

I don’t say any of this to short-circuit the sting of pain, or to abandon our sense of what’s good, true, just, and beautiful.

But what realizations might Wisdom— Sophia in all her glory — bring to us, as we continue to open-handedly hold the emancipatory promise, together?

What vast new intelligences and compassions might we manifest as we dive hands-first into this new year?

Feel free to comment below and tell me what’s on your heart.

Versions of this reflection was originally written and posted on January 6, 2019 and January 9, 2021.

14 Responses to The Gifts of Epiphany: What Will You Manifest?

  1. Debra D Elramey January 13, 2019 at 2:59 pm #

    Beautifully written, Mike, and good food for contemplative this new year. Bless you,

  2. Jana Rose January 7, 2020 at 6:06 am #

    Mike, I’m thrilled to have found you today through the Wisdom group on Facebook. I also write a wisdom-inspired blog, and it’s pretty different from yours, but I know yours will nourish my own writing, and I’m looking forward to writing more. Can I say, however, that this post made me scared? I am in alignment with my life’s purpose, which has taken me many years, and your post is making me wonder if I am meant to consider obstacles that come in the way, and that leads me to wondering if it’s healthy to consider obstacles, or if we are meant to just live in the moment and deal with them as they come? And I also wonder if you are experiencing a setback that inspired your post. Lots of food for thought! Thanks for writing, I will follow.

  3. Judith King January 7, 2020 at 6:31 am #

    Mike, thank you for your considered reflection on Ephiphany and other epiphanies. I particularly value your premise…’biblical narrative not as something that has happened but is happening…’ and the daily and utterly alive challenge of that in the everyday of our lives, which you throw in as ‘Christ disguised’. Neat! And very challenging. I also appreciate that you draw the story far far away from sweet gift-giving by exotic visitors to the desperate need of each of us to become more awakened to the regime defiance that working in Jesus’ circle and true peace-making will require of us…like the ancient Zoroastrians committed to reading the signs offered from the less than usual ways (for them among celestial bodies and paying critical attention to their dreams – as Joseph, of course did!) Our consent to stand in is so critical and then the posture as you say so well is to receive, receive and receive. What indeed will we manifest? Thank you again.

  4. Bettina Del Sesto January 10, 2021 at 6:41 am #

    Thank you

  5. Lynne Tolk January 10, 2021 at 10:11 am #

    Thank you! I have followed the Spirit, and tried to stay open since my own epiphany about 40 years ago, but this year has been particularly challenging. I read and loved The Divine Dance and follow Fr. Rohr’s daily meditations and am working on a book about my own path and the chaos that seems not to be finished with us yet. Your post has been inspiring and helpful!

  6. Tyler Dawn January 10, 2021 at 7:51 pm #

    Thank you Mike! As always, insightful and thought provoking. I purposely made no resolutions this year but I’m interested in pursuing Eugene Petersens version of Matthew. “ Learn the unforced rhythms of grace. I won’t lay anything heavy or ill-fitting on you. Keep company with me and you’ll learn to live freely and lightly.”. Big exhale to your all!!! ☺️

  7. Darby January 6, 2022 at 8:10 am #

    Really gorgeous, thank you, so helpful. I can’t be reminded enough that life can flourish in the midst of heartbreak, when things are falling apart. Let go, wake up, live. You evoked an image for me of a rip tide, and how the only thing one can do when caught in it is to let go. Deep breath. Thank you.

  8. Judy Rudolph January 6, 2022 at 9:27 am #

    What a great conversation for our next Wild Goose, wherever she may fly!

  9. Colby Martin January 6, 2022 at 11:25 am #

    I really, really appreciated this, Mike. Thank you for taking the time to pull all this together and write it so beautifully. I feel Invited in, and I love it.

  10. Larry W January 6, 2022 at 1:10 pm #

    Mike – your message today struck a chord deep within, something of a revelation, if I may best describe. Christ’s arrival suddenly became an ongoing event for me, no longer an event in biblical history. You opened something up there. And this passage of words:

    When Christ — disguised as my life — gifts me with something that at first blush I don’t welcome, it can be so counter-instinctual to dive into what I haven’t chosen.

    “What’s the alternative, though? The temptation is to grasp onto what I perceive I’m losing – to steady myself on what’s passing me by.

    But what does this get me? Misery!

    Pain is unavoidable, but suffering is uniquely borne of resisting what-is.”

    And others:

    “When Chrst – disguised as my life -” and
    “If you’re falling, go ahead and dive”

    Reminds of an old Yoga axiom: “Relax into the pain.”

    Thanks, Mike. My Epiphany awaits…

  11. Laura January 6, 2022 at 1:21 pm #


  12. Sue Safford January 6, 2022 at 2:26 pm #


  13. Vicki Winslow January 6, 2022 at 5:53 pm #

    Beautifully stated, and oh! how I needed it today. Thank you!

  14. Paula Thompson January 7, 2022 at 11:22 am #

    As I read your thought provoking post, the Hopi Prophecy came to mind. I offer it here:

    The Hopi Prophecy
    “You have been telling the people that this is the Eleventh Hour.
    Now you must go back and tell the people that this is the Hour.
    And there are things to be considered:
    Where are you living? What are you doing?
    What are your relationships? Are you in right relation?
    Where is your water? Know your garden.
    It is time to speak your Truth.
    Create your community.
    Be good to each other.
    And do not look outside yourself for the leader.
    This could be a good time!
    There is a river flowing now very fast.
    It is so great and swift that there are those who will be afraid.
    They will try to hold on to the shore.
    They will feel they are being torn apart, and they will suffer greatly.
    Know the river has its destination.
    The elders say we must let go of the shore, push off into the middle of
    the river, keep our eyes open, and our heads above the water.
    See who is in there with you and celebrate.
    At this time in history, we are to take nothing personally.
    Least of all, ourselves.
    For the moment that we do, our spiritual growth and journey comes to a
    halt. The time of the lone wolf is over. Gather yourselves!
    Banish the word struggle from your attitude and your vocabulary.
    All that we do now must be done in a sacred manner and in celebration.
    We are the ones we’ve been waiting for.”
    –The Elders, Oraibi, Arizona Hopi Nation”

Leave a Reply

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.