Since Christmas fell on a Sunday in 2016, last Sunday’s celebration of the Solemnity of the Epiphany was immediately followed by the Feast of the Baptism of the Lord on Monday. This combination of feasts serves to highlight the Church’s traditional commemoration of three manifestations of Christ celebrated on the Epiphany: His manifestation to the Gentiles through the Wise Men, His manifestation to John and his disciples at His Baptism in the Jordan, and His manifestation to His disciples through His first miracle of turning water into wine at the Wedding at Cana.
These three moments of epiphany, of God manifesting Himself, serve to reveal that this Jesus, whose birth we have just celebrated, is God Himself. Jesus Christ is the one who has come in the fullness of time, in fulfillment of the Father’s plan, to reveal to us the depths of God’s love for us, for the sake of our salvation.
Christ’s epiphany can help us to reflect on how He has been manifested to us in our own lives. Do we see His hand at work throughout the moments of our day? Do we recognize in a smile we give or receive, a moment shared with a friend, both joyful and tiring moments with family, a revelation of His own love for us? Do we recognize that He is living and with us still?
I found when teaching that one of the most powerful conversations to have with my students is to ask them how they know that they are loved. Even if you were the only person on the earth, I have said, and you did not feel that you loved yourself, how would you still know that you are loved? It is amazing to see their sometimes stunned realization when I tell them that they can always know that they are loved just by the fact that they exist. God holds all of us in existence, and if He were to cease thinking about or loving us for one instant, we would cease to exist.
While this always brings questions as to what ceasing to exist would be like (the simple answer, of course, is that it wouldn’t be anything), the concept of that degree of love clearly has an impact on students. One parent once wrote to thank me after I had this conversation with her son’s class: her son had told her that now he would never question whether God loved Him. Unaware that her son had ever questioned God’s love, she was grateful to know that he was now tangibly aware of God’s living presence with him.
Jesus Christ came as Emmanuel, a name that means “God-with-us.” Our God is not far off or distant from us but desires to come close to us, to be in intimate relationship with each one of us. While it is true that God loves everyone, we must not allow this truth to distract us from the fact that He loves you and me — each one of us — personally, individually, uniquely. He came as man to reveal Himself to us, and He desired to manifest Himself, through His Church, to each of our hearts. To Him, we are not just a group of followers; He knows and loves each of us deeply and personally, better than we know or love ourselves. As this year’s Christmas season comes to a close, may we recognize the manifestations of His great love in our daily lives.
Sr. Mary Martha Becnel is a member of the Ann Arbor-based Dominican Sisters of Mary, Mother of the Eucharist.