Pastor Jenna Bergeson + January 7, 2024
Pastor Jenna reflects on the transformative power of epiphanies in our lives. Drawing from personal experiences, she explores how moments of revelation, both dark and illuminating, can reshape our understanding of self and faith, ultimately bringing us closer to God's unwavering truth.
Lightly edited for grammar and clarity.
God comes to us in moments of Epiphany.
I found myself hearing Christ's origin story, the Christmas narrative, in a very different way this year. With things going on in the place where Jesus was born and hearing from the friendships I made when I was in Jerusalem in Bethlehem last June, to better understanding the real history and plight of indigenous people on Turtle Island, to meeting with people from Trinity and hearing about the really hard shit that so many of you are navigating, to facing my own humanity and fragility in a tender, unconstrained way, I have found myself empathizing in a whole new way to the story of Emmanuel – God With Us.
God comes to us in moments of epiphany, and sometimes the epiphanies we experience feel very dark. The word Epiphany doesn't actually appear in the Christmas narrative or anywhere in the four gospels. It's one of those concepts that's evolved with the work of Christians and theologians over time to help make sense of things. Epiphany can have many different meanings, one of which is a sudden manifestation or perception of the essential nature or meaning of something – an illuminating realization, an aha moment.
I imagine many, if not each and every one of you, have had some kind of an experience of epiphany at some point. I experienced a significant epiphany in my life in December 2021, about 5 months after I started my call here at Trinity. I was in a dark place, putting a mask on many days when I came here. At that point, the staff knew that I was dealing with mental health challenges and struggling to figure out what I needed, much less how to get it.
I had a hard time navigating the healthcare system. I imagine many of you can relate to that. I was experiencing suicidal ideations, haunting dreams, terrible self-esteem, and moments when I felt like I was completely out of control of my own mind. And then, I experienced a respite from my muddled mind when the arrival came of a dark epiphany.
From 2020 to 2021, I discovered and realized I had been in an abusive relationship. As soon as it hit me, this sudden manifestation of the essential nature and meaning of things, I couldn't unsee it. Everything clicked. It all made sense, and it changed me. For the first time in months, I started to understand the impact that this external source had on my internal personhood.
God comes to us in moments of epiphany, and God helped me to see, for the first time, the mistruths that I had come to believe and the harsh truth of reality. Fast forward to last month, December of 2023. As many of you know, I haven't been at Trinity for the past four weeks, including our Christmas services, which was both a blessing for me and a great source of loss.
It took several weeks in the month of December for another epiphany to arrive in my consciousness. I had had an experience of PTSD, which tripped and triggered my brain into a protective state, keeping me from reliving past trauma and also keeping me from being able to do a lot of things.
But God comes to us in moments of epiphany, and I believe that God uses messengers to deliver that news to us. Sometimes they're angels, sometimes they're magi, sometimes they're colleagues, bishops, friends, therapists, congregants, even strangers.
Last week, I had a conversation with Bishop Shelly about my current state, and she encouraged me to pursue disability leave at this time, which I've decided to do. Starting after worship today, I will go on leave for up to six months to focus on my health. And I have to tell you, I am humbled at the way this opportunity for me demonstrates care and how this church is putting words into action around what it means to provide support for one another on life's journey. I am hopeful and have faith that this time away will help me to be a healthier leader and a healthier human for when I return.
Jesus came to this world when it was in a state of great unrest. There were systems of oppression, injustice, false gods, and traumatic events that would have impacted him – a human like us – as well as the community around him.
We celebrate this day, this festival--we celebrate the moment of epiphany when the magi visited Mary and Joseph and Jesus because the manifestation of Christ gave way to the essential nature and meaning of his presence here on Earth among us. And as soon as that happened, they couldn't unsee it. For many, everything clicked. It all made sense, and it changed them. But it also didn't erase the oppression, the injustices that were happening, or the hardships around them. It brought light to the truth – Emmanuel, God With Us.
God came to God's people in that moment of real epiphany when Jesus was baptized. We heard Steve say today in the scripture, "As he was coming up out of the water, he saw the heavens torn apart and the spirit descending on him like a dove. And a voice came from the heavens and said, 'You are my son, the beloved; with you, I am well pleased.'" A moment, a sacred moment of epiphany.
As some of you may remember, I got a tattoo on my arm in Bethlehem last June – an image of a dove with its wings outstretched. I've been looking at this tattoo a lot lately. I visited the River Jordan when I was there, where Jesus was baptized, as we heard in the story today. And I chose this design in part to help me remember my baptism and the promises that come with that.
But I will tell you, church, my feelings around this symbol on my body have evolved even in the past seven months because I have realized that God comes to us in moments of epiphany. And this unique moment that ties us to this community's namesake – the Trinity, the presence of God the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit – it comes with God's presence in the form of a dove and also God's sacred words of unwavering truth.
This moment of epiphany is about Jesus, but it's also about you and me and all of God's children. It's about Nilan, who is going to be baptized today, and it is about the way that God will come to her in the waters of baptism. God comes to us and says, "You imperfect one, you who have lived and relive trauma, you who feel shame and rejection and vulnerability, you who feel joy and elation, friendship and love, you who try your best and sometimes fail, you who are part of something so much bigger – the body of Christ and the community of the spirits – you are my child, my beloved; with you, I am well pleased."
There may be days when you too struggle to accept that message from God, but that is the essential nature and meaning of baptism and God's relationship with you. You don't have to accept it, but it is the capital "T" Truth. God comes to us in all our moments of epiphany – in the waters of baptism, in moments of darkness, in moments of elation. God comes to us and says, in unwavering truth, "You are my child, my beloved; with you, I am well pleased."