Beloved People of God....
As you read this, we are preparing to enter a new year! (Stating the obvious, I know we are all hopeful it will be a much better one than 2020.) And on January 6th, the Feast of Epiphany concludes the Christmas season with a celebration of God’s glory revealed in the one who was born in the manger, Jesus Christ our Lord. Epiphany means, “manifestation,” in which the light of Christ reveals who we are, namely beloved children of God. God claimed us through the waters of baptism and assures us that no matter what the years are like, God will shine forth the light of love upon us.
Next to Easter, Epiphany is the oldest season of the church year. So, let me begin this year by sharing a little history with you about this day and season called Epiphany.
In Asia Minor and Egypt, Epiphany was observed as early as the second century. The Festival of the Epiphany fell and still falls on January 6. It was observed as a unitive festival -- both the birth and baptism of Jesus were celebrated at this time. January 6 was chosen as Epiphany Day because it was the winter solstice, a pagan festival celebrating the birthday of the sun god. In 331 A.D. the solstice was moved to December 25, but January 6 continued to be observed. Christians substituted Epiphany for the solstice. The emphasis was upon the re-birth of light. The unitive Festival of Epiphany was divided when December 25 was chosen as the birthday of Jesus.
The church in the East continued to celebrate Epiphany in terms of the baptism of Jesus while the Western church associated Epiphany with the visit of the Magi. (For the East, the baptism of Jesus was more vital because of the Gnostic heresy claiming that only at his baptism did Jesus become the Son of God.) On the other hand, to associate Epiphany with the Magi is appropriate, for the Magi did not get to Bethlehem until a year after Jesus' birth. Consequently, the Magi could not have been a part of the manger scene as is popularly portrayed in today's Christmas scenes and plays.
The name "Epiphany," as shared above, means "Manifestation." The light manifests itself in the darkness, God reveals himself in Jesus, and the glory of God is seen in Jesus. In the course of history Epiphany was known by other names: Feast of the Manifestation, Feast of Lights, Feast of the Appearing of Christ, Feast of the Three Kings (there is no biblical foundation for just three kings) and The Twelfth Day.
The Sundays after January 6 are titled "Sunday after the Epiphany." Epiphany is an accordion season. That is, it stretches or shrinks pending on the number of weeks it is observed. It depends upon the date of Easter. If Easter comes early, the season is short; if it is late, the season of Epiphany is long. In early times the length of the Epiphany season ranged from three to 10 weeks. From the sixth century, Epiphany was restricted to six Sundays at most. In the Eastern Church it was the custom to announce, on Epiphany Day, the upcoming date of Easter. The length of the season depended on the announced
date. Today, the Epiphany season extends from six to nine Sundays.
The color used in the paraments denotes the mood and meaning of the season. White is used for three Sundays: Epiphany Day, The Baptism of Our Lord (Epiphany 1) and Transfiguration. White is used for these three big days because it is a time of celebration. White expresses light, glory, victory, and celebration. Green is used on the Sundays other than the above three. Green is the color of growth. During Epiphany we are invited to grow into a fuller realization of the nature of Christ as the Son of God.
The Symbols Of Epiphany:
The Epiphany Star -- Epiphany is associated with the star that led the “wise men” or magi to the manger. The Epiphany star is a five-pointed star representing the incarnation. It is not a six-pointed star, for this is the star of David, representing the Old Testament with its prophecies. It is not a seven-pointed star which is the star of perfection. Nor is it an eight-pointed star which stands for regeneration and is associated with baptism. The purpose of the star of Bethlehem was to guide people to Christ. This is one reason why Epiphany is the time for the church's emphasis upon evangelism. The star guides us into the truth of this new-born child in the manger. And there we are led to an ever-deepening understanding of the nature of Jesus. We are to come eventually to see that Jesus is God's Son as stated at his baptism, "You are my beloved son." Just before the transfiguration, Peter gets the insight, "You are the Christ, the Son of the living God." Epiphany ends on the mountain of transfiguration with God again saying that Jesus is his beloved Son. One purpose of Epiphany is to bring people to this same confession.
The Epiphany Candle -- Another symbol of the season is the candle which sheds its light into a dark world. Christ is the light of the world. He comes into the world as a baby, a small, frail candle. It is the nature of light to scatter and annihilate the darkness. Light brings enlightenment, resulting in vision and insight. Because of light, there is manifestation and revelation. During Epiphany we see the light of God in Jesus. He reveals, shows, manifests God. This light has certain characteristics. It is a given light. The light comes from God, from the star. Man is not the light. At best he can only reflect the light. It is a light that grows in intensity. The candle grows and grows until it becomes as bright as the sun. Throughout Epiphany the light of God's glory is seen increasingly in Jesus until the transfiguration when his clothes and face are as bright as the sun. You may think of it in terms of concentric circles: a small circle around the flame of the candle until the last circle is as wide as the
world. The baby Jesus grows to a mature man of thirty when he is seen as the Son of God. A third characteristic of light is that it gives itself. The candle gives light only by virtue of its burning itself up. Light to be light must give, expend, and die to self. At the end of Epiphany, we see the light of Christ, at its brightest, but it burns itself out on the cross, only to be rekindled on Easter.
A Time of Worship -- Epiphany is a season of worship because it deals with the glory of God manifested in Jesus. The season begins with the magi’s coming to worship the newborn king. The season ends with the worship experience on Mount Transfiguration. When people see Jesus as God's Son, they instinctively kneel to worship him as Lord. (We will continue to provide worship online at least until the Second Sunday after Epiphany, on January 17. We will keep you informed if this changes.)
A Time to Witness -- Epiphany is the season of light, and light shows and reveals. The light burns so that all might see the truth and the way to God. It is the time for emphasis upon evangelism, sharing the story of the difference Christ has made in your life. Christ is the light and Christians reflect that light in the world. They are light-bearers, and they are to go through life lighting candles. One simple way you can do this is by inviting your friends and family to join with us in worship by sharing our services on your Facebook page.
A Time to Share -- The universal Christ is the center of Epiphany. This is the teaching of Epiphany Day with the coming of the Gentile kings to worship Jesus as Lord. The light of Christ knows no end; it goes to the ends of the earth. He is the light to lighten the Gentiles. The light of Christ is not merely to shine on Christians but through them to the salvation of humankind. During this season, the church places emphasis upon the cause of world missions. It is the outreach time of the church.
I hope you’ve enjoyed this information. Remember, “When the magi saw that the star, they were following, had stopped over the place where the Christ child lay, they were overwhelmed with joy” (Matt. 2:10). “The angel declared to the shepherds that the newborn child would bring good news of great joy for all the people” (Luke 2:10). Now again, Christ brings joy to all. Let your light shine and share the joy.
In Christ’s Light,