You can only apprehend the Infinite by a faculty that is superior
to reason, by entering into a state in which the Divine Essence
is communicated unto you."
Illumination and enlightenment are the themes of Epiphany tide. Επιϕανια is the Greek word for Epiphany, and it means manifestation or revelation, showing forth or shining forth. For Christians it refers to the disclosure of God’s love, wisdom, and power in the life of Jesus Christ---the Divine Life calling and summoning all men to the centrifugal center of reconciliation and communion with God. It is like the sun that opens the eyes not only to sight but understanding, whose rays inspire the human mind to discover and elicit the meaning and definition of existence. The illumination or enlightenment which comes from God through Christ to all men relates not only to our vision but also to the power that can change us. Through it men are invited to participate in the life of God beginning here and now.
And yet the light through which Christ manifests and illuminates God’s life and presence is not easily apprehended and accepted. If it could be, reason would acquiesce and adapt to its nature quickly, perhaps as swiftly as it assents to the proposition that two plus two makes four. But, as Plotinus reminds us, a faculty greater than reason is needed to pursue this truth, discover its meaning and enjoy its power. That faculty is called faith, for faith alone admits what it does not have, but desires to obtain and enjoy. Think about it. When you first fell in love, you did not yet have or possess the one you pursued. You had faith and confidence that there was something mysterious, deeper, and concealed that you wanted to embrace and cherish. Your faith pursued the object of your love in order to seek out and find a hidden reality, a deeper meaning attached to the one you trusted was meant for you! God works in the same way. He intrigues us, call us to follow and search out His meaning and desire with confidence that the truth is there to be discovered, as He progressively reveals Himself from the heart of His inner being. We can find Him only if we believe and trust that something most beautiful and meaningful is waiting to be disclosed and loved. If all that there is to know about Him were revealed externally, visibly and instantaneously to the human mind, there would be no place for a faith that follows and a love that grows.
So in Epiphany-tide our faith seeks to find and know our love. But the curious feature of our lections for the first three Sundays in this season is that of confusion. Have you noticed that in our recent Scriptural readings ignorance and uncertainty seem necessarily to precede enlightenment and knowledge? In them, we should have found that belief and opinion desire to overcome not-knowing and spiritual darkness. Where is He that is born king of the Jews? We have seen His star in the east and have come to worship Him, (St. Matthew 2. 2) the Wise Men ask. Something stirs these men to seek and quest after what they do not yet possess or know. Their faithful conviction or trust tells them that a star points to some deeper meaning and truth hidden in the birth of a poor child. And so they learn that their treasures exist for the sake of something higher, that God wants their riches to be surrendered for the sake of some deeper knowledge and some greater love. This was wholly unexpected and unanticipated.
Confusion and the unexpected compel those who love God to become more determined and diligent in their search for His truth. Last Sunday we found an example of the same kind of confusion. Joseph and Mary were alarmed and frightened at the prospect of losing their son Jesus. So they sought Him out. Their faith took them on journeys after knowledge and understanding, but here their love drives them through fear and terror. They hurry back to Jerusalem because they believe they have lost Jesus. Their faith has not completely prepared them for the unexpected, and so they become disheveled and confused. They find the child and exclaim to Him, Son, why hast thou thus dealt with us, behold thy father and I have sought Thee sorrowing. (St. Luke 2. 48) They are befuddled and perplexed further by His answer: Why is it that ye sought Me? Wist ye not that I must be about My Father’s business? (Ibid, 49) And yet, what do we read? His mother kept all these sayings in her heart. (Ibid, 51). In Mary’s heart there is a stirring towards knowledge and understanding because she trusts that there is more to be revealed and known in the life of Her Son.
Jesus is the wisdom of God that confounds human expectations. Jesus is also the power of God, who will transform the world. In today’s Gospel, now some years later, it would appear that Mary, once again, believes that she understands Her Son. She has pondered much and thinks now that finally she has a greater hold or grasp on who and what He is. He and she are at a wedding in Cana of Galilee. The wedding party has run out of wine. She has sensed the Divine love that His infant kingship has manifested; she has discovered Divine wisdom through His child-like rebuke; now she seeks to enlist His Divine power to overcome an earthly necessity. She knows Him, so she thinks, and points out the obvious: [Darling,] they have no wine. (St. John, ii. 3) The Mother believes, evidently, that Her Son’s mission and ministry is custom-made for the present predicament. Jesus thinks otherwise, and so proffers another firm rebuke. Woman what have I to do with thee? – or as a modern translation puts it – Woman, why involve Me in this? –or another – What does this have to do with Me? (Ibid, 3) It is followed by a harsh reminder: Mine hour has not yet come. (Ibid, 4) No doubt Mary felt, once more, the overwhelmingly powerful sense of her own ignorance and confusion. She does not entirely know Her son, yet Jesus does follow through with a miracle. But Mary knew that Faith must follow, love must grow, and so she commands the hired servants, Whatsoever he says, do it. (Ibid, 5) Jesus speaks: Fills the waterpots with water, (Ibid, 7) and they obey. Jesus then concludes: Draw out now, and bear unto the governor of the feast. And they bare it. When the ruler of the feast had tasted the water that was made wine, and knew not whence it was: (but the servants which drew the water knew;) the governor of the feast called the bridegroom, and saith unto him, Every man at the beginning doth set forth good wine; and when men have well drunk, then that which is worse: but thou hast kept the good wine until now. (Ibid, 8-10)
But notice this. Jesus does not merely produce new earthly wine at an earthly wedding for earthly men who had well drunk. Had he done so, the men who had well drunk would not have been able to taste the new wine. When men get to drinking, their palates and taste buds become numb to the quality of a vintage. But we read that the governor of the feast realized that the additional wine was of a vastly superior quality than all that they had hitherto drunk! So not only has Jesus made new wine through the power of his Heavenly Nature, but He has enabled a wedding party of well plied drinkers to taste the difference! What has transpired is not only the transformation of water into wine, but the extreme conversion of drunken men whose senses are miraculously revived and rejuvenated to know that a miracle has been performed on them also!
Of course, today’s miracle is a sign and symbol of what Christ always intends to do with us. If we are in search of miraculous earthly solutions to earthly needs and desires, we shall remain too drunk to perceive and know the intention and purpose of Christ’s coming to us. Christ Jesus is the power of God and the wisdom of God. (1 Cor. i. 24) He comes to put new wine into new bottles (St. Mark ii. 22) that the wine may change and transform those who believe into those who know and gladly receive the drink of His love. Faith follows, and love grows. This is where faith begins to take possession of the knowledge of Christ’s meaning and mission for us. Woman, what has this to do with me and thee? Mine hour is not yet come. (Ibid) Jesus will indeed perform this miracle, but only as a preparation and rehearsal for the best wine that will be saved until last. The best wine is yet to come. And that wine will be drunk once the Son of Mary pours forth from his hands, his feet, and his side that blood of new life that becomes the drink of salvation.
So the circumstances that define the dialogue between the Blessed Virgin and Her Son in today’s miracle are a cautious reminder of what we not only already believe but know. For we read of today’s miracle in order to remind us of that wine that Jesus saved until last. For us, the hour has [already] come. The new wine of Christ’s sacrifice on the Cross is poured out for us today. By some miracle of heaven’s infiltration of the earth, the wine that we shall drink in the Holy Eucharist can become for us the all-healing, curing, redeeming, and sanctifying blood of Christ’s love for us. The questions we must answer are these: Will we, in our receiving of the new wine of Christ’s blood, be transformed by it? Will we remember that He always saves the best wine till last? And for every time that we receive it, it ought to be much, much better than it was before. It should always be moving us through better to best! Why? Because in it is found nothing short of Christ’s incessant and eternal desire to make us new, better, even best in our receiving of it. And it isn’t that it ceases to be wine. It is and will be wine. But let it be for us that new spiritual wine that is discovered to be the eternal vintage of Christ’s love for us. And with the poet let us pray:
Love is that liquor sweet and most divine,/
Which my God feels as blood; but I, as wine.
(Agony: George Herbert)
O LORD, we beseech thee mercifully to receive the prayers of thy people who call
upon thee; and grant that they may both perceive and know what things they ought to do,
and also may have grace and power faithfully to fulfill the same;
through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.
(Collect Ep. I)
In Christmas-tide we directed our mind’s eye to the new birth of Jesus Christ in our hearts and souls. And so now in Epiphany-tide we move out of birth and into clear Light of day, in order that from birth and infancy that same Light might begin to instruct and teach us about the nature and character of the new life which God desires us to live. Epiphany comes to us from the Greek word, επιφανεια, and it means manifestation or striking appearance. And in the Eastern Churches Epiphany is called also Theophany, meaning the vision of God. So this season is all about contemplating the Light of God in Jesus Christ, which is the manifestation and striking appearance of His vision and understanding of human life as it was meant to be, from God’s perspective, and according to His plan and purpose for us.
Today we have jumped from Jesus’ birth as recorded in the Christmas narratives and the Epiphany visitation of the Three Wise Men to the only record of Jesus’ adolescence, where we find Him in the Temple at Jerusalem. I should say that we know nothing of the period between Jesus’ birth and his sudden appearance in the Temple at the age of twelve, and then between today’s manifestation and the beginning of His adult ministry. St. Luke, alone, chooses to record this singular event from the period between Jesus’ birth and His reappearance in adult life. But let us see how much is revealed and manifested in this brief but informative encounter. It will help us to understand the vocation and calling which each of us has by way of incorporation and perfection in the Mystical Body that Jesus is beginning to form and create out of Himself.
In this morning’s Gospel we read that Jesus’ parents went to Jerusalem every year at the feast of the Passover. And when He was twelve years old, they went up to Jerusalem after the custom of the feast. And when they had fulfilled the days, as they returned, the child Jesus tarried behind in Jerusalem; and Joseph and his mother knew not of it. (St. Luke ii. 41-43) St. Luke is in the habit of identifying Joseph by his first name, since he was the foster-father but not natural Father of Jesus. Jesus’ natural Father is God the Father, as we shall learn soon from Jesus’ own lips. So the family had traveled up to Jerusalem for the Feast of Passover. That his foster-father and mother did not realize that Jesus was missing as they began their return to Nazareth should not surprise us. Ancient Jewish families included the many members of an extended clan who customarily traveled together. The adults often entrusted their young ones to elder cousins as they made their respective pilgrimages. Yet still there is something of a spiritual symbolism in the fact that His parents did not know that He was absent from the traveling clan. Did His parents understand and see where Jesus truly was even when He was safe and secure under the roof of their own home? Could it be that His spiritual whereabouts were as yet hidden and concealed even from those who had first-hand experience of the Angelic Prophesy of His nature and destiny?
At any rate, only one day passed before Mary and Joseph realized Jesus’ absence. We read: But they, supposing Him to have been in the company, went a day’s journey; and they sought Him among their kinsfolk and acquaintance. And when they found Him not, they turned back again to Jerusalem, seeking Him. (Ibid, 44,45) Again, His parents’ assumption that He would be safe and secure amongst their kinfolk is natural enough. There is no real surprise in this way of thinking, for His parents were concerned about His physical whereabouts. They might even have intuited that He might have bee about His spiritual business, but their natural inclination and disposition led them to assume that His spiritual business would first and foremost involve his blood relations. Surely if their Son was to be great…called the Son of the Highest…the heir of…the throne of His father David (St. Luke i. 32), He might be expected to respect and honor His family first, as all good Jews did, and so begin His ministry with kith and kin.
But, as we know, such was not to be the case. Mary and Joseph returned to Jerusalem and spent three days trying to find their child. Evidently – by reason of the time it took them to find Him – they did not know where to look. Truly they did not know His whereabouts, because they had never really known where Jesus was spiritually. And this would be in no small measure due to the religious vision and knowledge which circumscribed those pious convictions, reinforced by the doctors and scribes of the Temple. Thus, finally, after three days they found Him in the temple, sitting in the midst of the doctors, both hearing them, and asking them questions. And all that heard Him were astonished at His understanding and answers. (Idem, 46, 47) Jesus was where the Jewish people claimed to know and serve God best. And, being but a child, He humbled Himself in hearing them out. But that didn’t stop Him from questioning them, and thus provoking those questions which elicited amazement at His understanding and answers. Jesus had come into the midst of the scholars and doctors of theology, and then called them down and into His seeming insignificance and anonymity in order to reveal God’s wisdom and truth.
Mary and Joseph were amazed at their son for different reasons. The last place where they expected to find Him was in the Temple dialoguing with the scribes. Their amazement is soon followed with an emotional scolding. Son, why hast thou thus dealt with us? Behold, thy father and I have sought thee sorrowing. (Ibid, 48) Jesus retorts with a gentle but firm rebuke: How is it that ye sought me? Wist ye not that I must be about my Father’s business? (Ibid, 49) In other words, Why were you seeking me? Did you not know that I must be involved with my Father’s affairs? His earthly mother and foster-father are wholly confused with His answer: they understood not the word, which He spake to them. (Ibid, 50: Wycliffe) All are astounded, bewildered, and perhaps even unhinged by what this child Jesus had to say. And He went down with them, and came to Nazareth, and was subject unto them: but His mother kept all these sayings in her heart. And Jesus increased in wisdom and stature, and in favour with God and man. (Ibid, 51,52)
Where is Jesus? is the question that confronts us on this First Sunday after Epiphany. But perhaps the question is best put the other way round: Where are we? This is the question that Jesus comes to ask of all those who will follow Him. He was about His Father's business and that might take Him anywhere, as here it took Him to the Temple. He claimed that He remained behind in the Temple because where He was, was the wrong question to ask. His question to the scribes and doctors of the Temple was: Where are you spiritually? The same question was implied in His answer to His mother: Why did you seek me? For you should have known where I was and always am. That His parents did not understand His answer is part and parcel of every man’s need to discover what Jesus is doing and where we are in relation to Him. Jesus doesn’t move; we do! He is where He has always been, with the Father and doing His work. He was with God from before all beginnings as the Word through whom all things were made. (St. John i. 3) He was with God from the moment of His human conception until His Ascension to the Father, revealing, manifesting, and disclosing the Father’s will as He wrought the work and labor of our salvation. He is with the Father today in our Gospel lesson, preferring His Heavenly Father’s business to the expectations and demands even of His earthly parents. He is with us today desiring to incorporate us into his youthful excited passion to seek first the Kingdom of God and His righteousness, that only thereafter all other things [might be] added unto [Him and us]! (St. Matthew vi. 33)
So where are we spiritually today? Are we looking for Jesus in all the wrong places? Do we expect Jesus to be where we are, at our beck and call, being subject unto us before He surrenders Himself to the Father’s will for us? Do we expect to find him in those places and spaces where we do what we darn-well please? Do we assume that Christ is blessing our endeavors because we feel so? Christianity is not about feelings; it is about facts. And the facts of Christ’s real presence have been tried and tested for two thousand years. The facts lead us to Christ’s life, what Christ is doing, and what He is doing is always being about His Father’s business. You see, salvation doesn’t begin and end with us. It begins and ends with Jesus. This is why St. Paul in this morning’s Epistle tells us to present our bodies a living sacrifice, holy, acceptable unto God, which is [our] reasonable service. (Rom. xii. 1) For, it is not of him that willeth, nor of him that runneth, but of God that sheweth mercy. (Rom ix. 16) It is only when we depart from where we are and enter into what Christ is doing that we can be sanctified and saved. Should we choose to be conformed to this world, and not to be transformed by the renewing of [our] mind, that [we] may prove what is that good, and acceptable, and perfect, will of God, (Ibid, 2) we all shall perish.
Dear friends, today let us enter into the labor and work of the young Jesus at the Temple in Jerusalem. Let us, in conformity to Christ, attend [to our] Heavenly Father’s business, and to make all other business give way to it, (Comm. M. Henry) that we may both perceive and know what things [we] ought to do, and also may have grace and power faithfully to fulfill the same. (Collect) And should we fail to acquire immediate answers and solutions to the confusions and perplexities that accompany our journey in Christ, with the Blessed Virgin Mary let us with deepest faith and trust keep all [His] sayings in [our] heart[s], (Ibid, 51) until, through Him, [we] shall [increase] in wisdom and stature, and in favour with God and man. (Ibid, 52) Amen.
St. Michael and All Angels Sermons: