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The Bearable Lightness of Being: A Christian Perspective on Epiphany

The Gospel of John, unlike the other gospels doesn’t have a nativity story.  The closest John gets is this:

9The true light, which enlightens everyone, was coming into the world. 10He was in the world, and the world came into being through him; yet the world did not know him. 11He came to what was his own, and his own people did not accept him. 12But to all who received him, who believed in his name, he gave power to become children of God.

(see John 1.1-14 )

Did you catch that? The focus of the nativity story for John is not on the baby. Rather, the focus of the story is on us!

Jesus came that we might become children of God: children who are not dominated by the circumstances in which we find ourselves, not defined by our limitations or hurts, and whose destinies are not controlled by others. We are those individuals who know ourselves to be God’s own beloved children.

Today is the twelfth day of the year. Presents are long forgotten and the turkey finally too. And if you listen very carefully, you will hear the sound of resolutions being broken all around you.

This week Christians celebrated Epiphany, the revelation of God as a human being in Jesus Christ, remembering the story of the Magi following the light of the star to Jesus, the Light of the World.

At Christmas the Light shone forth dimly, seen only by a few around the crib: Mary and Joseph and the shepherds. But at Epiphany the Light bursts forth to all nations and the prophecy is fulfilled: "The Gentiles shall walk in your light, and kings in the brightness of your rising." The mysterious star of Epiphany, "flashing like a flame," reveals God in human form to the whole world.

Epiphany is often called the Feast of The Light. "I am the Light," Jesus said. He did not say: "I will show the light to you," but "I am the Light." "And this is eternal life, that they know you, the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom you have sent."

What has come into being in him was life, and the life was the light

of all people. The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness

did not overcome it. The true light, which enlightens everyone,

was coming into the world.

One winter a number of years ago, my spouse and I planned a few days at our farm. It’s quite a steep drive up the hill, and part way up we got stuck in the snow. At 1 am. With all the provisions we needed in the car. Alan hiked up the rest of the way to unlock the combination lock on the door and put on the heat. Guess what? No light to see the numbers on the lock. Fortunately, my dad had recently traded cars with us and his car had a flashlight. An incredible feeling of lightness washed over me as I fumbled in the trunk, found that familiar cylinder, and turned on the switch. The heaviness of wondering what to do, where to go, how to cope, of realizing that we had not prepared for this ourselves though we should have, all that heaviness disappeared in the light. Even lugging our possessions up the hill in deep snow seemed a small task. The gratitude for a very disciplined, reliable and well prepared father lightened our loads.

I’d like to lift up the other meaning of light -- the opposite of heavy.

Light in the darkness -- the usual symbol for Jesus -- Light to the Nations.

Frederich Nietzsche promoted the idea that the universe and its events constantly repeat over and over again.This endless repetition imposes a heaviness on our lives and the decisions we make -- we drag around, repeating bad habits, feeling weighed down by the impossibility of change.

When Jesus shines as a light to the nations, even the fact of Jesus’ existence, he challenges this idea that we are doomed to the weight of mistakes of the past.

All too often, I believe, we allow certain elements of our life to dominate and define us. Things like our upbringing or interests, our good experiences and our bad ones, our relationships, our past triumphs or tragedies.

Certainly, these things matter. But all too often we allow them not just to describe parts of our life but to define us completely. In these verses, John invites us to hold all of the ordinary things that describe us as valuable but partial, as meaningful but not definitive. What is definitive -- and therefore more important than all the good or bad things we carry with us -- is that God has called us God’s own children, individuals who hold infinite worth in God’s eyes, deserve love and respect, and will be used by God to care for God’s beloved world.

Knowing that we are defined by God’s action is freeing -- like having a great weight lifted off our shoulders. So whether we have already broken our New Year’s resolutions or not, we can face the day, every day, saying, “I am God’s child, deserving of love and respect, and God will use me to change the world.”