Holy Trinity Lamorbey

11th January 2004

Epiphany I

 

 

The God who Hides Himself

 

"You really are a God who hides himself" exclaimed the Prophet Isaiah.

The word Epiphany means "The Revealing", "The Uncovering", or "The Discovery", and we commemorate the gradual revelation of God the Son to those amongst whom he lived his earthly life: his Mother, the shepherds, the Wise Men and John the Baptist to name but four.

But it was another "uncovering" – seeing the hole-in-the-ground where Saddam Hussein was hiding when he was arrested – that first helped me to realise that there are two very different reasons why people hide both themselves and their possessions.

If you are Saddam Hussein the reason is fairly obvious. You hide because you don’t want to be found. The same is true of those who hide the goods that they have stolen: they want them to be safe from the police or fellow-thieves so that when the danger is past they can come out of hiding, or dig up their ill-gotten gains and take them away with them.

But there’s another very different sort of hiding where the intention is precisely the opposite. Remember those Treasure Hunts which some of us have at Eastertide when we hide chocolate eggs in the garden for children to find. The whole point of a Treasure Hunt is that these treasures should be found, and it would be a disaster if they weren’t – so much so that we help the younger children by leading them near to where they are hidden.

Then think of the well-known game of Hide-and-Seek. If the person who hides were never found it would completely spoil the game. There’s even a Victorian poem called The Mistletoe Bough which tells of one unlucky girl who hid in an oak chest during a party and wasn’t found for many years afterwards!

When Isaiah spoke of God "hiding himself" my guess is that he was thinking of this second sort of hiding, the one where the Seekers are meant to find the Hider. Let me give you some examples of the way in which God may be thought of as hiding himself.

God hides himself in the sense that we cannot see him with our eyes. There’s a reason for this, which people like Isaiah guessed correctly: if we were able to see God with our mortal eyes the sight of him would very likely be unbearable because he is ‘a Lord of great and terrible aspect.’ "Woe is me, I am undone – for I am a man of unclean lips and my eyes have seen the King, the Lord of Hosts" cried Isaiah, one of the few people to have seen God and lived to tell the tale.

God hides himself in the things he has made. If we look carelessly at the things of nature we could never guess from their outward appearance that they are the work of a Great Mind; but immediately we start looking at them more closely, especially when we look more closely at the way our minds and bodies work, we discover all sorts of wonderful patterns hidden beneath the surface. And from the existence of these patterns it is reasonable to draw the conclusion that Someone and not Something lies behind their creation. That’s why Studying the Human Body and Mind as a Piece of Design should be one of the lessons for every Confirmation Class.

God hides himself in the lives of those who try to obey him and do his will on earth. Look at the lives of any of the saints and you will discover, below the surface of their humanity, that there is an unmistakable spark of divinity.

God, in other words, plants clues to encourage us to go on looking for Him . For He is a God who reveals himself in ways and times and places of his own choosing. But His revelation will only "work" for us if we play our part by looking for him using the clues he has provided.

Now we might expect, and we would be right to expect that, having sharpened men’s appetites from the beginning of Creation for this Treasure Hunt in search for Him, that God would be preparing mankind for something altogether more remarkable and wonderful.

And so of course he was. For, in the fullness of time, as St Paul tells us, God sent forth his Son, born of a woman in order that we human beings might, in the words of St John, be given "power to become the sons of God" ourselves.

But once again, when God the Son became flesh on the first Christmas morning, he chose to hide himself. He wasn’t born in a palace; he wasn’t born in a capital city; instead he was born of a Virgin in the stable-block of the local public house in a small country village of no great importance called Bethlehem.

God hid himself in order to be found. And those who found him first were the shepherds, who were wise enough to know that they really knew nothing, and the Wise Men who were wise enough to realise that they didn’t know everything. And, having found him, both the simple and the learned were wise enough to know that there was only one right thing to do – to worship him with the angels of heaven.

We find this pattern of Hide-and-Seek being repeated over and over again. God reveals himself in the words of Scripture – but only to those who take the trouble to read or listen to it carefully in order to understand what it means; He reveals himself in the Blessed Sacrament but only to those who are willing to receive him with a "humble, lowly, penitent and obedient heart" – everyone else sees nothing but bread and wine. He reveals himself in his Body, the Church, but only to those who are prepared to look beneath its rather rough-and-ready surface in order to find Him. He reveals himself in the commonplace, but only to those who search patiently and diligently for him amongst all the confusion which goes to make up everyday life.

Of course, once we begin to look for him, God is right by our side in an instant to say "not there!" or "try over there" – like we do to our children in a treasure-hunt. He sent his angels to the shepherds; he sent his star to the Wise Men; and to us he sends dozens of little clues about his presence amongst us.

God, as Isaiah said, is truly a God who hides himself – but he hides himself in order that we may find him.

Perhaps you are wondering why he chooses to manifest or reveal himself in this way. Well there are probably many good reasons for his doing so which one day we shall understand; but one of those reasons is fairly easy to guess if you think of our experience when we discover something for the first time. For it’s the case, isn’t it, that we are far more likely to value something we have found for ourselves, even with considerable assistance from others, than something which has just dropped into our laps whilst we weren’t even looking?

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