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Home » Celebrating Epiphany with a Focus on the Future

Celebrating Epiphany with a Focus on the Future

06 January 2023, Friday
This year, Ukrainian citizens diverged from Orthodox tradition and chose to observe Christmas on Dec. 25, not Jan. 7, which is when Christmas is observed under the Julian calendar. By doing so, they signified a break away from Russian customs and a turn toward the West.

The Greek word 'epiphany' translates to a manifestation or appearance. It was often used in classical literature to refer to the appearance of a god, or a theophany. In the Bible it is used to describe the birth of Jesus, his resurrection, and, most commonly, his second coming. Epiphany holds more significance in Eastern Christianity than it does in the West.

In the West, the Epiphany celebrates the visit of the Magi to the infant Jesus, and is seen as an extension of the Christmas season. This year, Catholics will celebrate the feast of the Epiphany on Sunday, Jan. 8, with the Gospel reading from Matthew 2:1-12 recounting the visit of the Magi. Thus, the Epiphany signifies the manifestation of the divine to the Magi.

The Orthodox Church celebrates Epiphany on the 19th of January. This marks the baptism of Jesus in the Jordan River, as described in Mark's Gospel, when a voice from Heaven proclaimed "You are my beloved Son; with you I am well pleased." The epiphany, therefore, is a manifestation of God's words for all to hear.

Meanwhile, Catholics will observe the baptism of the Lord on the day after Epiphany, with the baptismal account from Matthew. Then, the following Sunday, the 15th of January, the story will be heard from John's version.

Liturgical scholars who view the Epiphany as referencing the Second Coming of Christ distinguish it from Christmas, which commemorates Christ's birth in the past. Perspectives on the Second Coming are divided between an optimistic expectation of the event and a more pessimistic one.

The optimists think Christians, following the teachings and example of Christ, will strive to make the world more equitable, pacific and loving until it is ready for His return. With the Spirit, we will change the world. The pessimists think we will botch the world so badly that Christ will have to rescue us. Because of our predisposition towards sin, we will take advantage of science and technology to damage and ruin our surroundings. As a Catholic, I don't believe we are fated to either conclusion. We have a selection.

When I was a child in the 1950s and '60s, I feared that the use of nuclear weapons could cause the destruction of humanity. Over time, I grew increasingly optimistic that humanity was on a path of progress, and I endeavoured to make a positive impact on the world by following the teachings and example of Jesus. However, with the growing evidence of climate change, my hope has been replaced by despair. The majority of the planet appears to be in denial of the potentially damaging effects of global warming, and few people in the more affluent regions of the world are willing to take on the necessary lifestyle changes in order to mitigate this threat. The fossil fuel industry is expending huge amounts of money in order to delay any progress towards a greener future, and politicians are scared of upsetting constituents with their suggestions of austerity.

At the COP27 Climate Change summit, United Nations Secretary-General Antonio Guterres warned that we are heading towards an uninhabitable world if we continue down the path we are on, saying, “We are on a highway to climate hell with our foot still on the accelerator.”

This message calls us to reflect on the second coming of Christ, as the feast of the Epiphany prompts us to do. We must consider our roles in preparing for His return. Will we create a hospitable world, or one that is uninhabitable?

Now that it is possible to identify intelligent life in other parts of the universe, not to mention the multiverse, we must be humble enough to recognize ourselves as part of God's experiment that could lead to success or failure. Maybe, in some other corner of the universe, His message was better received. 

God has bestowed us with an opportunity. With Christ as our guide, He has revealed the path to us. If we fail to understand and use the gifts He has given us, we only have ourselves to blame.
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