Many around the world right now in the church are observing the season of Epiphany: a season recognizing the manifestation of Christ to the Gentiles as represented by the Magi (Matthew 2:1–12). This season is typified by symbol and artistic fullness. Though I don’t attend a very liturgical church, and I don’t observe Epiphany in the strict sense, I do learn much wisdom from its rich symbol, observance, contemplation, and the way in which it enriches millions within God’s family around the world.
The star has typically been the symbol of Christ’s appearing, and this meandering image almost takes on a very life of its own in the story of Christ’s revelation in the world. Though the star symbolizes and helps us remember, picture, imagine, and behold the night on which the wise men first saw the King of the Universe, it is not the only image that refers to God’s “appearing.” Years after Jesus’ birth, as John the Baptist was preaching to the kingdom and baptizing his followers, a man stepped down into the water; this man elicited these words from John: “Behold the Lamb of God!”
John baptized this man Jesus, and as he lay body and head under the water and raised him up to the light of day, the Spirit of God descended on Jesus like a dove, followed by a voice from Jesus’ Father in heaven: “this is my Son in whom I’m well pleased.” This becomes in scripture the Epiphany (revealing) of Jesus’ ministry.
The image of a dove
… as used here, elicits all kinds of meanings. Firstly, the Israelites up to this point in history prided themselves on acknowledging God as “One.” They recited the Shema Yisreal declaring His nature, and the manifestation here expands upon their understanding of God’s nature, in that He is ONE (ousia—substance) but also three (hypostasis—persons). The New Testament goes on to to say a lot about God’s three-in-one-ness, but here the like-a-dove image of the Spirit descending, of Jesus rising, and the Father affirming gives us one of the first pictures and clear appearances of the revealed Trinity. This is important in helping humanity to understand God, but also to understand ourselves—our need for uniqueness (singular), but also for community (plural).
The dove conjures up all kinds of imagery. During the flood of Noah, the dove found land in returning from its journey, holding an olive branch in its beak. Here the dove holds no such branch, yet lands on Jesus. A powerful picture that Jesus is the promised land as foreshadowed by the actual land-nation of Israel in the Old Testament, and also an affirmation that Jesus was and is the Suffering Servant and “branch” to come that had been prophesied in Isaiah. Not only is Jesus to be the tree and graft all nations back into the life of God through his own death and resurrection, but Jesus is going to suffer with the least of these and come to free the captives, the poor, the imprisoned, and the destitute. The dove in the Old Testament was the allowed offering and sacrifice for the poor.
Epiphany and Symbol …
Here Jesus’ epiphany and manifestation is revealed through symbol and through artistic creativity and imagery. God reveals his nature not only as a single person, but also as a community of friendship. Notice that the Spirit descends like a dove, not as an actual dove. Why?
Well, a dove is pure, gentle, and playful, and this image is to be a sign to all of God’s revealed nature. Throughout the Ancient church, the fathers of Christianity revealed God primarily in the Eastern Church through the word, perichoresis. I think this is helpful to understand here as Jesus manifests the nature of his ministry in the dove. Lester Ruth describes perichoresis this way:
Ancient Christians had a great image for describing this relationship of Jesus Christ and God the Father and the Holy Spirit. They said the relationship between the Three was like a big dance. The technical word was perichoresis. Like a lot of useful words, it’s a combination of two other words: peri meaning around and choresis meaning dance. We know these words: think periscope as something that allows you to look around and choresis as related to choreography. With respect to the Trinity, think of the three Persons as involved in a circle dance, moving so gracefully, so quickly, and so eternally that they seem as one although they are also three distinct partners.
And we get invited in to this dance. It’s not like one of those movie scenes about a prom where some guy goes in, taps another guy on the shoulder, and takes over dancing with the partner while the original guy heads to the sidelines. No, it’s more like what used to happen to me as a kid with my dad. When it came time to dance, he would have me climb up on his feet and hold his hands. And he would start to dance around the room. My job wasn’t to initiate the dance. My job was to stay attached to him, feet firmly on his, hands firmly in his and be attentive to this movements so I could join in with him. And we would dance around the room. When we were dancing, was it his movement or mine? Was it his energy or mine? Was it his liturgy or mine? Yes.
Jesus’ relationship within himself is in a face to face—toward one another—dance of purity, gentility, and beauty (contemplate Nikki’s photos of a ballerina). The best image that can help us understand this dance is that of the gracefulness of a dove. We must consider God’s artistry to better understand his personality.
During Epiphany, God wants us to consider His appearance as a baby, but also how He begins His ministry in Luke 4 with Trinitarian implications in the image and likeness of a dove.
Like all things, words are not adequate to communicate these truths, so we’ve enlisted the help of our photojournalist to include some photos for our imagination. I’ll only give you one hint (well, maybe two): it alludes to the like-a-dove imagery, as the Spirit descends upon Jesus in a dance. The actual photo is the captured shadow of a ballerina in motion. Enjoy as the Father uses these images to help you contemplate His dance of pleasure in you, with you, over you, and through you.
 Dt. 6:4
 The OT presents God as “Three” in many places, however it is in the New Testament that this nature is better revealed not concealed. The Old Testaments emphasis is on God’s oneness, and the NT puts the emphasis on God’s Threeness.
 Isa. 4:2; Isa. 53