When I was in junior high I had a friend whose Dad devised marketing plans. His most famous campaign? The V8 slogan – “I could’ve had a V8!”
When the guy in the advertisement slaps his head and says, “I could’ve had a V8!” he’s having an epiphany.
Long before anyone thought to concoct a cocktail of vegetable juices, there were people who experienced an epiphany about Jesus. There were the magi who doggedly followed a star to Bethlehem, and upon finding the subject of their devotion – a mere child in a humble house – they presented him regal gifts of gold, frankincense and myrrh. Though separated from the visit of the Magi by many years, the baptism of Jesus by John in the Jordan River is part and parcel of the manifestation of Jesus as someone more than noteworthy – as Immanuel – God with us.
This is heady stuff. The newborn baby born to poor, immigrant parents receives royal visitors from far, far away. What does it mean? John baptizes a young preacher and people hear a noise – some swore it was a voice saying, “This is my son – the beloved. I take pleasure in him.”
Heady stuff, indeed, but the remarkable beginning may have been necessary to provide momentum to carry Jesus and his followers through days that would as often be as discouraging and trying as those early days were exhilarating. There was a time when many fickle followers were melting away and Jesus looked at his core of disciples and wondered aloud, “Will you also go?”
Peter’s affirmation on that day of discouragement seemed to signal a renewed beginning – “To whom would we go? Your words are life.”
A new year is a good time to reaffirm our commitment to that which matters – or perhaps (to put it more precisely) – to the one who matters. We often speak of a commitment to the faith and to the church. Certainly it is right and good to be so committed. But ultimately the faith and the church must be about something more than an institution and something more than a set of beliefs. Unless, like Peter, we are possessed of a single-minded and tenacious intent to follow the one whose words are life, we are unlikely to find the courage and the strength to continue when times are rough.
Local churches – and networks of local churches (like the Iowa Conference) – must be communities committed to the worship and service of the one who was made manifest to the Magi and to John the Baptist and company. We need these communities because following Jesus will sometimes be hard and without the support of fellow travelers – fellow disciples – we may falter along the way.
Later this year the Iowa Conference will celebrate its 50th anniversary. We’ve done and been many things in those 50 years. By God’s grace one of the things we continue to be is a community of disciples who offer and receive communal support for the sometimes difficult – and sometimes exhilarating – privilege of following Jesus.
Do you have an epiphany story? Don’t keep it to yourself. Sharing it with another may be just what’s needed for a friend to walk another day with Christ. Together let’s continue to make Christ known – let’s see that Epiphany experiences come to those who need them most.
Rich Pleva, Iowa Conference Minister