Home > Advent > Groaning Under the Glory (Epiphany)

Groaning Under the Glory (Epiphany)

The Miraculous Draught of Fish - James Tissot

The first glimmer of dawn ripples across the sea. Night is fading. The rising sun exposes an empty boat full of weary fishermen. The people working in darkness have seen a great light. And it only reminds them of failure.

We know their story all too well. A long night’s struggle gives way to the light of our own weaknesses. Heaven breaks in all around us, we behold the darkness in our own hearts. We don’t measure up. We fall short. We glare dimly in the light of glory.

The light shines out in the darkness, and it appears that the darkness is moments away from putting it out.

On this Epiphany, we celebrate the wise men bowing before the baby Jesus. This infant king was supposed to usher in the Kingdom of justice, peace, righteousness and truth. But the story is far stranger than we expect. This Nativity story immediately cuts to Herod’s slaughtering sword killing the innocent babes in Bethlehem while the baby Jesus is whisked to the safety of Egypt. In the moment when God breaks into our world, he is revealed amidst struggle and strife and more suffering.

Today, the celebration of Epiphany breaks into our cold hearted world, but everyone has already forgotten the miraculous birth. Back at work. Immersed in projects and meetings and deadlines, we have no time to linger over the troublesome story of God’s unveiling in the midst of a world that reels in anguish.

And yet, this is Gospel.

Jesus is raised as a carpenter. He’ll have to get his hands dirty. When God comes to dwell among His people, he enters into the grime and messiness of life on earth. He enters into the darkness and at times, it appears the darkness will swallow him alive.

In fact, it does swallow him alive.

I’m not so comfortable with the messiness of this spirituality revealed in the Gospels. I want to live on the Mount of Transfiguration, far from the smells and sounds and struggles of our broken world. I want my faith and spiritual life to grow and flourish in a place free from conflict. Like a child hiding from shouts of an angry parent, I want to hide from the problems of life. I seek a sanitized spirituality. Not the messy wonder of Jesus stepping onto the boat of a few weary fisherman.

They needed him during their night of futile fishing. They needed him in their hour of darkness. But he didn’t come. Then they gave up. They started cleaning their nets and docking their boats, then he suddenly stepped into their story.

We sometimes think God has to appear like a Geni from a bottle when we face conflict, indecision, life challenges. He doesn’t have to appear. In fact, he didn’t even have to do anything. He didn’t have to create us. He didn’t have to create our world. He doesn’t have to create or sustain anything. Rather, He is free to create. He is free to sustain. He is free from our closed world of cause and effect. He is free to enter our stories as he chooses.

Jesus freely steps onto a boat of weary fisherman. After teaching the crowds of people, he turns to Peter and issues a command, “Drop your nets in the deep.”

While the command appears nonsensical in the full light of day, a puzzled Peter obeys. A moment later the boat almost sinks under the weight of the all the squirming, smelly fish. Peter falls to his knees and cries out to Jesus, “Depart from me a sinner.”

When the glory of the Lord appears, we fall down like Peter groaning under its weight. Oddly enough, it doesn’t make us feel more spiritual, but less so. The failures of our words and actions shine ever so clearly in the light of Jesus unveiling. When Augustine beholds the Glory of the Lord, he realizes the terrible darkness of his own unrighteousness.

Some people, like myself, scramble to retreats, to prayer summits, to quiet places, hoping for that transcendent encounter. I am drawn to a spiritual life where I rise like the morning mist floating up toward the sun. Instead, I’m flung back to the earth to behold a life less spiritual than I imagined. Spirituality is neither the heavenly bliss of ecstatic joy nor the endless groveling of self-excoriation. Rather, it is the freedom of Christ to enter into the boat, to enter the story.

He enters Peter’s story in the freedom of his own time and place. Moments later, Peter is overwhelmed by the Light of Glory. In Peter’s exposure and confession of sinfulness, Jesus doesn’t leave. Rather, he says, “Don’t be afraid.”

Encountering the Glory of His Light often means encountering the terror of our weaknesses. Jesus looks at us and says, “Do not fear.” He is present. He calls us to follow.

He calls Peter into a life of fishing for living people. Peter, James and John leave everything behind and follow Him.

This is the life of faith. Leaving everything behind and following Jesus. And later, leaving everything behind and following Jesus. And still later, leaving everything behind and following Jesus. Like Paul on the Damascus road, He steps into our success. Like Nicodemus in the dark of night, He steps into our ideologies. Like the woman at the well, He steps into our shame. Like Peter on the boat, He steps into our exhaustion, our weariness, our failure. He steps in the utter messiness of our world and says, “Leave everything behind and follow me.”

On this wondrous day of Epiphany, open your eyes. For Jesus is coming, Jesus is calling. Whether you’re basking in the light of your own glory or drowning in the darkness of despair, leave everything behind and follow Jesus. He will take you where you don’t want to go. But don’t fear. He loves you. And He will love you into glory, into glory and into ever-increasing glory.

Categories: Advent
  1. Rick Doughty
    January 6, 2011 at 9:25 am

    This came at a good time. Thanks, Doug.

  2. Ben Taylor
    January 7, 2011 at 7:20 am

    That was very helpful, Doug. I especially enjoyed “spirituality” as the freedom of Jesus to step into our lives. Thanks.

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