EPIPHANY: A Season to Let Your Light Shine
From January through the middle of February, we enter that portion of the Church year known as Epiphany. Epiphany is a composite of two Greek words—“epi” and “phanos”—which means “the appearance of light.” This word had special meaning in the ancient world because it was used to describe the appearance of a ruler. The same culture that birthed the Bible and the early church celebrated the visit of its ruler with great pomp and circumstance. The ruler's visit was always a lavish affair marked by feasting and a celebrative mood.
In Christian thought, the appearance of light reached its peak in the birth of Jesus Christ. But that knowledge was a dawning revelation. When Jesus was squirming in the manger, observers suspected there was something unique about this kid, but they had no idea how unique. That discovery was a process that took place over time and continues to take place.
In the early church, the feast of Epiphany originally celebrated the birth of Christ. However, after the birth of Christ was placed on December 25th to replace the pagan feast of the birth of the sun, Epiphany was designated as the event that manifested Jesus as the Son of God, the Savior of the world.
In Western tradition, Epiphany begins with the arrival of the wise men from the East. The significance of their entrance is that at “the appearance of light,” they dropped what they were doing and followed it to the Bethlehem manger. The symbol and the message of that event/story is that the light of God has gone forth into all the world—not just to Israel—and is available to all true seekers after God. Christ did not come for a few, but for the world. In the West, the baptism of Jesus and the marriage feast of Cana were continuing manifestations of who Jesus was.
In the East, Epiphany happens at Jesus’ baptism. There, when John the Baptist pours water over Christ’s head, the heavens open, a dove (the symbol for the Holy Spirit) alights upon Jesus, and the voice of God says, “this is my Son the beloved.” Here is another “appearance of light,” a deeper revelation that Jesus is uniquely related to God as “Son.” There is only one “begotten” Child of God; the rest of us are made children of God by adoption into that family.
Today Epiphany brings us to the end of the Christmas cycle, completing the great rhythm of expectation and fulfillment that defines this period of time. It also points to the beginning of Christ's manifestation to the world, a ministry that not only happened in the first century but happens now within the church and within us as we travel through the unfolding mystery of the liturgical year. Because Epiphany happens during Jesus’ Galilean ministry of teaching and preaching there is often an emphasis on the “ethics of Jesus” during this season.
The message of Epiphany is especially important to our congregation as we begin a season of discernment and reflection about the future of our church, our building, our purpose and all that God is leading us towards. We need the creative and life-giving leading of the Holy Spirit. That means we need to be quiet, listen and learn and trust God to lead us to that collective “Ah ha!” moment.