Epiphany -- Scott Dickison
While it’s certainly not celebrated this way outside the church (the Christmas music stations normally change back into pumpkins at the stroke of midnight on the 25th), we of course know that Christmas is a season in the church year. It’s not a long season, only 12 days, which—you guessed it—is the origin of the song. And this Sunday we complete the Advent-Christmas season with our celebration of Epiphany.
Epiphany comes from the Greek word epiphanos, which means, “to suddenly appear or come into view.” Now, like Advent but perhaps even more so, Epiphany is not a holiday with which many of us are familiar. But good for us, this time we Baptists are not alone. Most Protestants do not have much of a tradition around Epiphany. Epiphany has long been much more important in the East with the Orthodox traditions, and still is. In some places it’s even a more celebrated holiday than Christmas.
We tend to associate Epiphany with the coming of those mysterious wise men from the East—the Magi—and celebrate how the Gospel message is spread throughout the world. But the early church, and Eastern Christianity today, focused more on Jesus’ identity as the Son of God. You see the early church separated their celebration of Jesus’ birth from their celebration of God “revealing” the Incarnation to us. Christmas celebrated Jesus’ birth, and Epiphany was mostly about the revelation at his baptism: the Spirit descending like a dove, and the voice from heaven saying, “This is my Son, the Beloved.” Epiphany, for them, was about God revealing who Jesus is.
Now, for us today, all these differences can get pretty tedious, and in the end they are not all together important. But Epiphany is important, or can be if we let it. And not just because it offers us a time to reflect on these puzzling characters in the Magi, or celebrate the spreading of the gospel message, or even because it gives us a reason to sing Christmas hymns a little longer—though these are all good reasons.
Epiphany is important because it’s not a celebration of just one Epiphany, but all the many “epiphanies” we receive. Some of them we find in the Bible—Jesus’ baptism, the turning of water to wine at the wedding in Cana and all the rest of the miracle stories. But the Epiphany of Christ, the revelation of “God with us,” is not limited to the Bible. It’s something we all have the capacity to experience in our own lives if we pay attention.
Epiphany can be a time for us to consider the many glimpses of Christ’s presence or the coming Kingdom we have witnessed, and perhaps give us the motivation to keep our eyes open as we enter into this New Year. This is my hope for you, and my hope for us together as a church.