Today is January 6th. This is the day many in the Christian faith observe and celebrate Epiphany. Epiphany is the day that we observe the coming and visit of the Magi, Wise Men, or Wise Guys, depending on your interpretation. Though nativity sets usually depict them as part of the scene, it is quite likely that they probably did not visit baby Jesus until he was a 1 or 2 year old toddler. Nevertheless, the day of Epiphany culminates the Christmas season with the coming of people from elsewhere in the world to worship the baby Jesus and then their sending out into the world to share that news.
Lake of the Isles Lutheran Church helps provide some context:
The Twelve Days of Christmas end on January 5th. Historically, these were favorite days for music and theatre. William Shakespeare wrote his comic play “Twelfth Night” for the close of the Christmas season. In Leipzig, Germany, during the time of J. S. Bach, the city marked the Advent season with silence in the churches. There was no music performed until Christmas Eve. The twelve days that followed were filled with music. Bach’s own Christmas Oratorio was to be performed on the First, Second and Third days of Christmas. Epiphany traditionally marks the visit of the Wise Men to Bethlehem. This will allow us one last chance to sing such favorite Christmas carols as “The First Noel” and “We Three Kings.”
The day itself, Epiphany or January 6th, is a bridge from the Christmas season (and Christmas’ twelve days as well as the season of Advent before it) and the season after Epiphany which is a growing time in the church focused especially on the images of light. With the Baptism of Our Lord Sunday being the first Sunday after Epiphany, there is an added connection between light and baptism that continues through the season and often is tied together with the last Sunday of the season within much of the Lutheran Church anyway, The Transfiguration of Our Lord.
For me Epiphany means a few things.
1) It literally means “to show” or “to make known.” On this day we observe just how wide the implications of Christmas and God’s coming into the world are. God didn’t just come into the world for a few people in Bethlehem or even Israel. God came into the world for all people. On this day we observe the first real instance of that action and becoming taking place, as travelers from the east (probably Persia) followed a star as the story goes. They came and gave gifts and worshiped. They discerned something important was going on.
2) Epiphany points to an idea that we come and worship a baby in a manger, even without any idea of what this really means. We just know that God is up to something new and totally opposite of our preconceived notions and ideas. God isn’t playing by our rules. God is working as God sees fit. The means and ways may change, but God’s love is constant and that is why God acts in new ways that God’s people might come to know, love, and be in relationship with God.
3) Epiphany also includes an idea that we are a part of the showing and making known. Epiphany is very much a missional day at its core. As we know the wise men left and returned, we believe that they went and shared what they saw and experienced. Likewise, we are to share the good news that we understand about what the birth, life, death, and resurrection means. We are to share the good news about a God who chooses to be in relationship with us and to be for us, in spite of our best and worst selves. The light of the world isn’t “hidden under a bushel,” but it’s meant to shine and does. We are called to be a part of that process of naming the light and helping discern what God might be up to in the world around us.
What do you think about Epiphany? Do you celebrate it? If so, do you have any fun traditions?
If you would like a short devotional for today, check out the “God Pause” for January 6, 2014. If you would like some deeper perspective or longer reading you might read this post. It’s not a perspective I necessarily entirely share, but I believe its very well written and explained and in such a way that it would be a helpful compliment and counterpart to the conversation and exploration.
Image Credits: 1) Wise Men on Camels and 2) Wise Men bearing gifts.