I like the suggestion of Teilhard de Chardin that the word Epiphany, for the feast where Jesus shows himself to the wise men from the east, be changed to ‘Diaphany’. Epi-phany means ‘showing upon’, that is the ‘showing’ of God who has come ‘on’ earth.
The wise men made a long and hazardous journey, symbol of our life, to come to this fulfilment of their quest and their reward was to ‘see’ the child whom they came to know as a great king and ‘light of the gentiles’. That is our joy too as we celebrate the Epiphany rounding off the Christmas season.
We can, though, move on to say that this coming of God to ‘dwell among us’ is for the purpose of completing creation: ‘recapitulating’, that is, ‘gathering up all things under Christ as head’ (Eph 1:10). Everything is touched by the divine. Everything. And especially every person. ‘Dia-phany’ captures this as it means ‘showing through’. We are more familiar with the word ‘diaphanous’ and its use to describe a type of dress but even that use illustrates what is meant. We can see its meaning in great artists, musicians, sportsmen and the like. We call them ‘inspired’ and they are given their gift to raise our hearts. Seeing or hearing them takes us ‘through’ them to a glimpse of the divine.
This expansion of the word ‘epiphany’ leads us to be on the watch for sparks of the divine in others and in creation. There is no single person on earth who does not reflect in some way that divine life. To brush any person aside, to ignore the suffering of any woman or man, is to trample on the divine, now ‘shown’ to be on earth. It is to turn away from the light of which the Christmas readings are full. The light comes into the dark but the dark tries to snuff it out. We saw this in 2020. We became aware of the generosity and the courage people showed to others as we wrestled with the virus. Compassion and solidarity pushed their way forward as dominant virtues across many parts of the globe.
Yet the darkness fought back and is now trying to regain its ancient ground. It wants us to retreat to ‘normality’ with the help of a vaccine. We want the skies full of planes again and the cities clogged with cars. We want ‘the standard of living to which I am accustomed’ back again.
Or do we? There are so many signs that people are waking up to climate change and Covid will be seen one day to have contributed to this awakening. It is maddening for politicians to have to put their great plans on hold while they deal, at great expense, with the crisis under their noses. But a new electorate has appeared in many places that demands action in creating a sustainable planet.
That is our great hope: that a great multitude will discover their voice and demand a new world where the divine life ‘shows through’.
6 (3) January 2021 The Epiphany Is 60:1-6 Eph 3: 2…6 Mt 2:1-12