When all the people were being baptised, Jesus was baptised too. And as he was praying, heaven was opened and the Holy Spirit descended on him in bodily form like a dove. And a voice came from heaven: ‘You are my Son, whom I love; with you I am well pleased.’
— Luke 3v21-22
The feast of the Epiphany is the feast of revelation: the revelation of Christ to the Gentiles, and the revelation of Christ as the Son of God. As in the moments of clarity that we also call ‘epiphanies’, the light dawns and the truth is made plain. The feast of the Epiphany celebrates both the visit of the Magi (the manifestation of Christ to the Gentiles) and the baptism of Christ (his revelation as the Son of God).
The Lord Jesus came to reveal, and being both God and man, he reveals both God and man in their fulness. In his baptism, Jesus reveals God to the world. What does he reveal? He reveals God to be Father, his father, as he is revealed to be God’s beloved son. In his baptism, Jesus reveals God to have been the trinity of divine love all along: the eternal Father sending his beloved Son in the power of the Spirit for the redemption of fallen man. In this moment of epiphany, Jesus reveals God to us.
But there is more: in his baptism, the Lord Jesus also reveals humanity—that is, he also reveals us to ourselves. Jesus is declared to be the beloved son of God, but lest we think that being the ‘son of God’ is mutually exclusive with being a son of Adam and a human being like us, Luke shows us that that is exactly what humanity was always created to be. He has been saving Jesus’ genealogy for such a time as this, tracing his line back through David, to Jacob, to Adam, himself the son of God as well.
This is an epiphany also: Jesus’ baptism is the revealing of what we were always created to be, and he reveals what is still our ultimate hope and goal. The words spoken over Christ in his baptism and anointing are spoken over each one of us in our baptism and our anointing with the Holy Spirit: ‘You are my son, whom I love; with you I am well pleased.’ Our baptisms unite us to Christ: as he is anointed King and Priest, so are we; as he dies and rises, so do we; and as he is revealed to be the son of God, so we are revealed to be children of God as well. Every baptism is an epiphany.
And this epiphany is the end towards which the universe is working. St Paul picks up this theme in his letter to the church of Rome. The same Spirit of sonship that animated and empowered Christ has been poured into our hearts, a first instalment of the glory to come. Creation waits eagerly now, not only for redemption, but for this final moment of epiphany, as St Paul says, ‘the creation waits in eager expectation for the children of God to be revealed.’ (Romans 8v19)
Let it never be said that God has a low view of humanity, though well our feeble frame he knows. Though we’ve been warned in advance, I’d suggest that that final redemption and revelation for which all creation waits will still take us by surprise as well. On the day of Christ’s appearing, all the sons and daughters of God will be revealed as well, and we may still find ourselves asking with wonder and delight, ‘My God, is it really us?’ The words spoken over Christ may now and will then be said truly of us as well: ‘You are my son*, whom I love; with you I am well pleased.’
*Or daughter, obviously, but God didn’t say that to Jesus. Obviously.