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  • Seasons of the Spirit: Identity—An Epiphany Exploration

    What was your last epiphany?  Was it energizing and exciting?  Or was it challenging and disconcerting?  The word “epiphany” means “manifestation, realization, or disclosure” revealing the essential nature, reality, or meaning of something that was previously hidden or unexplored by us.  It is about gaining a new perspective on something that has been with us all along, but now with a new consciousness and understanding.     

    In our Christian calendar, the joyous twelve days of Christmastide come to a close and usher in the season of Epiphany on January 6.  During the season of Epiphany, the gospel readings include accounts of the baptism of Jesus.  In many traditions, the renewal of baptismal vows takes place in Epiphany.  Jesus rose out of the waters of his baptism, hearing the words, “You are my beloved, in whom I delight.”  In this season, we are asked to take these words of God into our own hearts, for we have been baptized with Jesus into this reality of God’s creation.  Here we affirm that our true identity is that we are creations of a loving God.  We belong in this world of creation, and in this world there are no “extra” people.  All are creations of the loving Creator, made in the image of God.  All deserve dignity, respect, justice, and love.  This is our identity given to us as a gift.  It is our identity that is not “achievement based”, but is based upon our very being as God’s own creation.  

    We live in a world in which we attempt to protect ourselves from “identity theft.”  What if the real thief of our identity of which we should be most wary is the thief that would take away this birthright of our identity as “beloved of God, made in the image of God”?  Our world seems to demand that we  “prove ourselves and establish our identity” through stockpiling more and more by way of achievements, attainments, power, fame, and earthly fortunes—all in attempts to make ourselves worthy and our identity secure.  We desperately need to be reminded of our deeper identity beneath this acquired identity:  our lives as creatures of the Creator who is far greater than our ego tries to prove, but in which our soul finds its strength, its true power.  Instead of our futile attempts to achieve our worth by ourselves, may we understand the magnificent reversal of identity so palatable in the vulnerable baby of Bethlehem:  God’s love bestows our worth.  We do not establish it by ourselves.  Grace is a gift.

    What would it mean if each of us heard deep within our hearts these words of affirmation that our baptismal vows give to us, “You are beloved of God”?  This is your deepest identity bestowed upon you by Creator God.  You cannot earn this identity.  It is yours as a gift to be lived out in gratitude and love.  Would this be an Epiphany for us? Could it free us to then share this affirmation with all others in our church, our community, and our world?  Would you see yourself and others with different eyes?  Would your actions reflect this understanding of God’s affirmation of you as beloved, a love that is always a resource, a refuge and strength, a present help in any trouble?  Could you release yourself to that identity that rests in the “Higher One” who loves you more that you can love yourself?  This is the resource to which we turn for guidance, solace, strength, love, forgiveness, and renewal of hope.

    May God bless and enlighten us with an ever-growing light in our Epiphany explorations of God’s endless and all-encompassing love.  May we all rejoice as children of a loving God upon whom we can be centered and in whom we are grounded.  And may this reality make us ready, willing, and able to love and serve one another and our world as we have first been loved and served by God’s unconditional Love.   “You are the beloved creation of God.”

    —Rev. Dr. Ken Orth, Healing Worship Minister, Old South Church in Boston (UCC); and Pastoral Counseling and Spiritual Direction Affiliate, First Congregational Church of Winchester, (UCC)