I was reading a book by Madeline L'Engle -- I forget which one -- and came across a sentence that burned into my memory. The sentence was, look for the epiphany. The word “epiphany” refers specifically to a Christian feast day, January 6. It is the celebration of the wise men’s visit with the baby Jesus. The word comes from Greek, as many good words do, and means simply “appearance”. My daughter's name, Tiffany, comes from the word epiphany.
Tiffany was well named. She came to us on January the 22nd, in the middle of the worst blizzard we saw while we were living in Montreal. The streets were all but closed down. I went to and from the hospital on the subway. One evening when I returned to our apartment, the car had been broken into. The thieves had broken the steering wheel trying to get the lock to release. Then I went on into the apartment, and the oil stove had clogged up. It was 15 below zero outside, and I had Talitha, my three year old daughter in a house without heat, and before I could get the oil flowing the phone rang. It was a church in Florida wanting to know if I wanted to be their pastor. I died a real death telling them that God had called me to Quebec, and I just couldn't consider their wonderful offer. Tiffany came in the middle of all of that, a wonderful, healthy child, full of life and joy.
Tiffany was right name for her. Because an epiphany is an unexpected appearance of God. He often visits us in a way we don't expect. The men on the way to Emmaus discovered this. They were worried and troubled. Their spirits were cast down. They walked looking at the road. (By the way, we should never do that. Only practical, pragmatic people walk that way, and those are not usually the ones who get to see the wonder that can suddenly settle on the world when least expected. Usually the impractical dreamers are the ones who get to witness such things. ) But these men on their way to Emmaus were so practical. Jesus was dead. Hope was lost. Their dreams were shattered.
I don't know when they noticed that they had a fellow traveler. It was dusk, and they were on a well traveled road. Also, their grief was too overpowering to pay much attention to the stranger who had just decided to walk along beside them.
"You look sad, my friends", the stranger said. "Why are you so troubled?"
"Oh, you must be a stranger to our area", one of them replied. "We have seen terrible things these last few days".
They talked on like this for a while. Then they came to the town. They were about to turn into the road home. They noticed that the stranger was about to move on. They pressed upon him to go home with them, to eat dinner and sleep. Then he could continue on his way. Finally the stranger turned in to their home.
They recognized him in the breaking of the bread. When he held up the bread, they were seized with who he was. It was the Lord. Then, like so many times, just as he was recognized, he vanished.
It was only then that they realized how they had felt while he was there. "Did not our hearts burn within us as we talked with him along the way?" But that was hindsight. They had said nothing about that while they were walking. It was the epiphany that helped them see what had been there all along.
The first year we lived in Montreal, Trish and I were in language training. On Sundays we went to the church pastored by our friend, Lewis Fontalvo. It was a wonderful congregation and we enjoyed the services. But like most pastors of growing churches, he was very busy. We didn’t see him personally very often.
One evening though, Lewis decided to pay us a visit. He came to the house and stayed for about a half an hour, maybe more. The only problem was Talitha, my daughter. She wouldn't leave the man alone. She brought him cookies, paper, scissors - anything she could find. She had gone into her room to look for something else when he left. When she came back into the living room, she said, "Daddy, where did God go?"
"God?, what do you mean, honey"
"Well God was here"
"Right here, he sat in this chair"
Then I realized. We always talked about going to God's house. Lewis was the guy in the front at God's house, and was in charge of things. He must be God. And God had come to Carrignan street on the East side of Montreal, to visit two parents and a little girl. It didn't seem strange to her. God does things like that. And she was right.
We must be like my little child, we must keep looking for the epiphany. I find Christmas time an easy time to see Him. Sometimes he’s in the face of the Salvation Army man, collecting change and ringing a bell. He may show up in a Christmas play, and a little doll will suddenly really becomes the baby of Bethlehem. But maybe He will show up in a long distance telephone call -- from a person that has been hard to get along with. He may suddenly be very present in the reading of the Holy Scripture, or in a praise chorus.
But you have to watch for him. Don't miss Him.
Watch for the epiphany.