Steve Zwettler’s Homily from the Feast of the Epiphany, January 7, 2018

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Steve Zwettler


Feast of Epiphany

January 7, 2018


“Epiphany:  Seeing An Old Idea In a New Way”


     I trust that all of you had a peaceful Christmas and New Year Season.  As always it is so good to gather for Eucharist.


In thinking about the feast of the Epiphany I came across a wonderful definition of the word, Epiphany, from the writings of the marvelous American poet and writer, Maya Angelou.  She writes the following:


The Word “Epiphany” probably has a million definitions.  I believe

An epiphany is the occurrence where the mind, the heart, the body and the soul focus

Together and see an old idea in a new way.”



In light of this definition, I’d like to take a New Look at the meaning of the Feast of the Epiphany and see how significant it can be for us today.


I begin with a short story of a personal epiphany of mine.  A number of years ago, in my work as a Hospice Chaplain, I was invited to visit an elderly Jewish woman who was very near death.  I thought her family would be with her when I knocked on her apartment door, but I was greeted at the door by a Jewish Social Worker, from Jewish Social Services.  We had worked together before so were comfortable with each other’s ways.  We went into the dying woman’s bedroom and greeted her.  Her eyes were open but she could speak little.  I backed away and let the Jewish Social Worker take the lead in providing spiritual care.  This was her turf.  She offered words of comfort and affirmation; asked about any pain; invited connection about the patient needed the most.  She then asked the woman if she would like to pray……she nodded yes.  The Social Worker read the 23rd psalm……the Lord is my Shepherd……..Then she turned to me and said she was going to recite the “Shema,” the prayer which comes from the Jewish Evening Prayer and all Jewish people wish to have it recited as they approach death.  I asked if this Christian Chaplain could recite and pray it with her together?  She seemed surprised that I knew it……but I said I knew the Hebrew.  She said yes… would be wonderful to pray it together.  We both knelt the the patient’s bed.  The Social Worker took the woman’s hand and I gently touched the patient’s shoulder and together we recited the powerful Hebrew Words:


“Shema Israel Adonai Elohenu,

Adonai Echad.  Amen”


“Hear O Israel, the Lord our God,

The Lord is One.  Amen”


     There was a peaceful silence in the room when we finished.  The patient was quietly moving her lips with her eyes closed.  We stayed kneeling by the patient’s bedside providing silent presence and support. It seemed a “Kairos” to me…..a special grace-filled moment.  Then I quietly said my goodbyes and left.  And while driving on to my next patient visit I thought to myself:  Was there not a deep Love present here?  Was there not a rich Spiritual Peace here?  Was there not Goodness and Compassion in this moment?  Were there not Reverence and Respect and Light here?


For me, this was a personal Epiphany of sorts, in that I sensed the presence of God, the Divine, present in the Jewish Tradition, more deeply than ever before……it was not just an intellectual and theological head experience…..but it was personal and of the heart.


Which takes us to our Feast today of the Epiphany.  This Feast is traditionally a celebration of the “Manifestation” of Jesus…..the Shining forth of Jesus for not just the Jewish community but for the whole world…..the Gentiles.  We have the Wise men, the Magi, the Star, Jesus Mary and Joseph running for their lives from Herod.


And if Epiphany is seeing an old idea in a totally new light , then I propose that this Great Feast of Epiphany be more than proclaiming that Jesus is Manifested for All……I propose that this feast can be about more than Just Jesus as Light…….I propose that it is time we take it a step further and say that this Feast of Epiphany shows us that God shines forth—that God is revealed—–that God is evident to us wherever people are searching for Love, Compassion, Light, Wisdom and Truth—–and that God is present in all loving religions of the World—-just like my experience with the elderly Jewish woman who was dying.




     This way of thinking frees us from the Dogmatism that says our religious tradition is the only One True Way.  This type of Dogmatism mostly breeds arrogance, violence and war among people.  How many thousands and thousands of people have suffered and died because of thinking that there religion was the only true religion. It is this type of Religious Supremacy thinking which creates havoc and builds walls between us.  This type of theology and thinking does not demean or minimize Jesus or the God we love.  Quite the contrary!  It celebrates God’s incredible Creativity and Imagination.


Thich Nhat Hanh, the marvelous spiritual writer and wisdom teacher, in his beautiful book “Living Buddha-Living Christ” says:


“Wherever we see someone-no matter their religious tradition,

Who is loving, compassionate, caring and understanding,

We know the Holy Spirit is there.  We know God is present.”


     I am a lover of folk music.  I think I know most of Peter, Paul and Mary’s songs by heart.  Before she died, Mary Travers, wrote a song entitled:  “If There’s Any Hope For Love At All-Some Walls Must Fall.”  (  I gently sang refrain of the song- “If there’s any hope for love at all-some walls must fall.”)   How appropriate be speaking of walls at this time in our history.  It is so important for some walls to fall.


And so, as we begin this New Year of 2018, I’d like to invite us to challenge ourselves to be Wise Women and Wise Men.  Let us journey with new Epiphany Vision—with eyes searching to see the Light—-to see the Truth—–to see the Love—to see the Goodness wherever it is found—by whatever name it carries—-or whatever Religious Affiliation it represents.


Let this be the year, that we—like the Wise Men—are willing to go on the same perilous journeys to find our God who is always present and freely given to all!


I close this morning with a quote from an anonymous Christian Writer which relates the Epiphany—-a quote I found in the reflections of the Jesuit writer, Mark Link SJ:


When the song of the angels is stilled-

When the star in the sky is gone-

When the Wise Men and the Magi are home-

When the Shepherds are back with their flocks-

Then the work of Christmas begins:


To feed the hungry,

To release the prisoners,

To rebuild the nations,

To bring peace, compassion and justice to sisters and brothers,

To make music with the heart.”



May we become Epiphanies this Year of 2018—Manifestations of our God with is with us—Here and Now.

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