What is the work of epiphany, and who does this work, and when?
Holy Epiphany is the name we give to that moment in salvation history when ‘the Lamb of God’ is identified, is pointed out, ‘who takes away the sin of the world’:
Τη επαύριον βλέπει ο Ιωάννης τον Ιησουν ερχόμενον προς αυτόν, και λέγει • Ιδε ο αμνος του Θεου ο αιρων την αμαρτίαν του κόσμου.
The next day John saw Jesus coming toward him and said, ‘Look, the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world!’ John 1:29
The world, ho kósmos, ‘the ordered [of God]’. The sin, hi hamartía, ‘the not a part of’. Takes away, airo, ‘to lift off’.
We associate the work of epiphany with John the Baptist. The scripture is quite blunt. John was sent, given a concrete command, told to baptise. That was his part of the work. It didn’t matter that he himself wasn’t given all the details ahead of time. ‘I myself did not know Him’ (John 1:30). But he did know, he did have to trust, the One who gave him the commandment, keep doing what he was told. The work of epiphany could only be done with his cooperation, with his faith, with his obedience.
When the work of epiphany was actually accomplished, nothing could have been less conspicuous. ‘At that moment heaven was opened, and he saw the Spirit of God descending like a dove and lighting on him’ (Matthew 3:16). Not many others were standing by to see this, or to hear the words, ‘You are my Son, whom I love; with you I am well pleased’ (Mark 1:11). John was doing his work, and the work of epiphany happened, yet John seeing the work completed did not stop working.
Whatever it is we do, whatever work has been assigned us, it is the work of epiphany, yet it is not we who do the work, nor is it ourselves that we point to. We have our instructions, and we know what to respond to askers and trippers, ‘A man can receive only what is given him from heaven’ (John 3:27). It is always ours to begin the work, to trust the Word, to be obedient, even when we don’t have all the answers, even when we don’t know what it will look like—it is His to finish the work—when He appears.
The work of epiphany is for us what it was for John the Baptist. Each of us does what he is commanded by God, trustingly, obediently, so ‘that He might be revealed to Israel,’ (John 1:31) to our own people, to those around us. Our work is lighter than John’s because we have seen the end as well as the beginning in Christ, and following Him we can truly say, ‘we speak of what we know, and we testify to what we have seen’ (John 3:11). We know what the work of epiphany is, we know Who does the work, but we don’t always know when, because in weakness we try too hard to watch it happening.
We know the heavens will open, and so we watch for it, forgetting not ourselves in the process, but ironically forgetting Him. Straining so hard to see what cannot be seen, to hear what cannot be heard, we too can miss Him standing before us, speaking in our faces, ‘among you stands One whom you do not know’ (John 1:26). The timing of the epiphany, when it will happen, is now. It is every moment that grace has given to us, because ‘it is the day of Resurrection’ which is ‘the Day without end.’ That which was hidden from the world has, in a paradox, become what will in the end be seen by all.
Meanwhile, we have our work to do, and He has His, the work of epiphany, yes, each of us doing the work given to us by heaven, because soon, very soon now, we will see it open one more time, ‘And I saw the heaven opened, and behold, a white horse, and one sitting on it, called Faithful and True, and he judges and makes war in righteousness’ (Revelation 19:11). Brethren, let us work, and trust Him in whom we have believed, and be obedient, that the work of epiphany be done in us, that we may soon hear, ‘Well done, good and faithful servant!’ (Matthew 25:23).