I first heard the expression “The Big Reveal” on Extreme Makeover: Home Edition. I’m sure others have used the term before, but it was always a BIG reveal on that show.
An huge team of professionals and volunteers, armed with a storehouse full of tools and a seemingly unlimited budget, would swoop down on the humble home of a family going through hard times – unemployment, sickness, disability, disaster – and would turn it into a showpiece.
In a matter of days, the work would be done while the family was staying somewhere else. The family would then gather near their home, but on the opposite side of a big bus. At that point, everyone would start shouting, “Move that bus!” The bus would pull away, and everyone would cheer and look amazed at the transformation. It really was a BIG reveal.
And that practice has been appropriated by expectant parents – who have started holding “Reveal Parties” to let their friends and family know whether they’re having a girl or a boy – or more than one baby.
Although the incarnation of the Son of God is the most important event in history – it was very low-key. You have all heard the story of the trip to Bethlehem for the census, the “No Vacancy” sign at the inn, and the feeding trough repurposed as a cradle. But God was planning a big reveal. Several of them, actually.
The message from the angels to the shepherds was the first: “The glory of the Lord shined around them” – the brilliant light of God’s presence; so great that you could feel the weight of it. Then the army of angels filled the sky and sang a song of praise to God. The Mormon Tabernacle Choir has nothing on that heavenly choir.
When they went to see the Savior – the Messiah, as the angel had called Jesus – they found Him just as the angel had said – wrapped in a receiving blanket and lying in the animal’s feeding trough. But oddly enough, that did not dampen the shepherds’ enthusiasm about the baby. They went out and told anyone who would listen about it.
So there was something going on that no one could see. Something was at work in the shepherds, enabling them to believe that they had found the Messiah.
This past Thursday was the Feast of the Epiphany. Epiphany means “an appearance or manifestation,” and it comes from the Greek word meaning “to show, to reveal.” There was a big reveal in the sky on the night of Jesus’ birth – but the bigger reveal was in the hearts of the shepherds. God revealed to them in a much more quiet but no less miraculous way that this baby in a bin of hay was their long-awaited Messiah.
When Jesus was circumcised in the Temple, the Godly old man Simeon prophesied that Jesus would be “a light for revelation to the Gentiles.”
And that was fulfilled when the Magi came to visit Jesus.
Again – there was a sign of something big in the sky. Matthew tells us it was a star – some sort of bright light. It might have been a couple of planets’ lining up, or a supernova – or God may have just placed a special light in the sky – one that may have been visible only to the Magi.
Whatever it was and however it got there, they took it to mean that the Jewish people were getting a new king. So they made elaborate preparations for a long journey across the desert to find Him.
They first went to Herod’s palace – reasonably expecting that the new king would be the son of the current king. But they were not deterred when they found no king-in-waiting there. After learning that Micah had prophesied that a king would be born in Bethlehem, they followed the star there.
By that time, Jesus and His family were in a house – most likely a very modest home. When the star stopped over the house, Matthew tells us the Magi were “overjoyed.” Not mystified by the humble circumstances in which they found Him, but “overjoyed.”
And when they saw Jesus, “they bowed down and worshipped Him.”
Specifically, they fell on their faces as they would before their own king.
That seems very unusual – that they would worship a young child who is obviously not part of any royal family, let alone their own.
So there was something going on that no one could see. Something was at work in the Magi, enabling them to believe that they had found the Messiah.
There was a big reveal in the heavens that drew the Magi to Bethlehem – but there was a bigger reveal in the hearts of the Magi. God revealed to them in a much less spectacular but no less miraculous way that this newborn son of a poor family was the King of Kings – not just of the Jewish people.
This is the even we celebrate as Epiphany – Jesus’ being revealed to those outside the Jewish faith.
And another big reveal came in His baptism – which we happen to be celebrating as well today. Yes – you get two holy days for the price of one.
When the Jewish leadership asked John the Baptist who he was – another way of asking by what authority he was baptizing – he denied being the Messiah. Then we read in John 1:
The next day John saw Jesus coming toward him and said, “Look, the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world! This is the one I meant when I said, ‘A man who comes after me has surpassed me because he was before me.’ I myself did not know him, but the reason I came baptizing with water was that he might be revealed to Israel.”
The big reveal came right after John baptized Jesus and they were coming up out of the Jordan. Heaven was – as Mark described it – “torn open.”
God the Father declared Jesus to be “my Son, whom I love,” and then told Jesus that He was well-pleased with Him.
It would seem that those who saw this and heard this would respond as the Magi and the shepherds – worshipping Jesus and telling others about Him. But only John’s Gospel tells us how anyone reacted to this epiphany event – and he tells us only about John the Baptist’s response:
I saw the Spirit come down from heaven as a dove and remain on him. And I myself did not know him, but the one who sent me to baptize with water told me, “The man on whom you see the Spirit come down and remain is the one who will baptize with the Holy Spirit.”
I have seen and I testify that this is God’s Chosen One.
So there was something going on that no one could see. Something was at work in John, enabling him to believe that he had met the Messiah.
There was a big reveal in the sky at the time of Jesus’ baptism – but the bigger reveal was in John’s heart. God revealed to him in a much more subtle but no less miraculous way that this ordinary-looking stepson of a carpenter was the Savior of the world.
Someone was asking me just the other day why God doesn’t do big, flashy, Cecil B. DeMille miracles anymore to prove to people that He is still with us, to get people to believe. I stumbled my way through some lame explanation about who God uses a series of small miracles instead of big ones now.
What I should have told him – but didn’t think of until this message finally took shape – was that the big miracles, the big reveal, the walking on water and the water into wine were not what persuaded people to accept Jesus as the Savior, to worship Him, and to tell others about Him. Those spectacular signs never have and never will convince anyone.
What does is what God is doing in people’s hearts. It is the much more quiet, much less spectacular, and much more subtle work of the Holy Spirit – who softens our hearts, overcomes our doubts, and gives us the faith to believe that Jesus is the Son of God and our Savior.
That is the true epiphany – the real Big Reveal: when God in His grace moves us from unbelief to belief.
Some of you may be experiencing an epiphany event today – no choirs of angels or bright lights or loud voices from heaven – just a quiet sense in your heart that Jesus is all that He said He is, and that you can trust Him as your Savior and Lord.
If that is what’s going on in you now, then in the moments of quiet that will follow the sermon, tell Jesus that you do trust Him, that you welcome Him as your Savior and Lord.