No illusion

The magician David Copperfield holds the record for making the largest object disappear. In 1983 he made the Statue of Liberty disappear in front of a live audience. As with most tricks, there was a crescendo of drumroll and music before the climax when the vast curtain fell and the spotlights revealed that the Statue was no more to be seen, leaving the stunned audience wondering how just how he did that. Could he really have made a massive statue disappear?

Today we celebrate a yet more dramatic revelation: God revealed in human form. Here the climactic moment comes not with a drum roll and the pulling away of a curtain, but the simple viewing of a young child as the Magi enter the stable, drawn by the light of the star.

This is just one epiphany, we celebrate another next Sunday when the voice from heaven at the baptism of Jesus confirms him to be the beloved Son of God. We celebrate another the week after in his first miracle, turning the water in to wine at the Wedding at Cana. Indeed there are many epiphanies in the gospels, many manifestations of the divine nature of Christ right up to the appearances of the risen Christ and the acclamation of Thomas, ‘my Lord and my God’.

This is also what the Magi are acclaiming:  Christ as King and God, in their gifts: gold for regal power: frankincense to be offered up by a priest to God. Their response to the child Jesus is to worship him, to go down on their knees and pay him homage. They kneel before the one who will declare himself to be 'the way, the truth and the life'. This revelation is to gentile foreigners, to Magi from the east. As St Paul says Christ is revealed as the saviour for all.  

Magicians have retained their popularity, with ever more amazing feats. David Blaine encased himself in ice for 62 hours. Derren Brown cheated death playing Russian roulette with a loaded revolver. But magicians are illusionists, they create their magic feats by illusions. Members of the Magic Circle are sworn never to divulge the secrets of how their tricks are performed, though now via the internet, you can find leaked explanations of the great magic feats. David Copperfield made people think that the Statue of Liberty had disappeared by having the audience sit on a very slowly revolving stage. The noise of the music covering any sound of movement, their eyes were so fixed on the curtain that they ignored everything else around them. It was an illusion.

Our journey of faith is hopefully marked  by a series of  epiphanies,  revelations of God as he really is. Increased knowledge of his true nature should help to enhance our perception of the world around us, so that we might understand the world as it really is, and not as we might pretend it to be. Our care for one another should be shown in a deep interest in those to whom we are close. When we ask how people are, are we prepared to listen, if a proper answer is given rather than just a pleasantry?

Sometimes we may undergo harsh epiphanies, rude awakenings, when people are revealed to be not the people we thought they were. We may be deceived or misled. A harsh word or an unkind act takes us by surprise. It is hard to feel betrayed, because there is more than just  hurt, but also a blow to our pride that we have been taken in. We may not have control over how others behave, but how we react is down to us.

Our journey of faith also involves a process of knowing ourselves better, knowing us as God knows us, he who is closer to us than we are to ourselves. This year may bring personal epiphanies, when we are revealed to ourselves and to others in ways which may surprise us, please us or disappoint us.

All this talk of revealing ourselves makes me think of a Chip in the Sugar by Alan Bennett, in which Graham joins a self-help group for people with mental health issues. In the group is Leonard, a sixty five year old man who informs Graham that old people can fall in love and have meaningful relationships.  This prompts Graham to wonder how he would know as he’s never had a meaningful relationship. Leonard was had up for exposing himself in the doorway of Sainsbury’s,  ‘as mam says, Tesco you could understand it.’

This year may we all be blessed with the revelation of God as he really is, seen most explicitly and without sham, deceit or illusion in the person of his son Jesus Christ, and may we reflect that shining image in the conduct of our lives and the content of our speech.