Meditations on the Season of Epiphany
What is the Season of Epiphany?
In the church calendar used by many of the most ancient traditions in Christendom, there is a season following Christmas known as Epiphany. Epiphany is taken from a Greek word which means to reveal or make manifest. In the progression of the liturgical focus in the church calendar the season of Epiphany leads us to consider how God led people in growing numbers and various ways to see Christ as one who has come into this world as a unique person, one who is God made manifest or revealed in the flesh. Yet this uniqueness of the one who came into the flesh, into humanity and into human society does not separate him or place him above our lives, but rather serves to bring his life and the life of God into our human experience. Christ who is uniquely fully God and fully man has come into human society so that each of us in our own unique individual lives, and all of us together being gathered into one humanity may be drawn together through this one whom God is making manifest in the human experience.
I have lately been reading the latest work by N.T. Wright, massive and scholarly, and sometimes a bit too much to take in all at once. But one point he makes is that the people who waited for Messiah to come were people who saw themselves as part of the story of Scriptures. The Scriptures were to them not only the history of a people or a tradition, but a living story incorporating those born after the time mentioned in the stories of the Holy Scriptures. Modern Judaism retains this in the practice of Passover wherein Israel’s children are to see themselves in Egypt, surviving the plagues, crossing the Red Sea on dry land, entering the wilderness, waiting in the wilderness, and entering the land. They are not to see themselves as outsiders looking through history to a story, but as insiders made a part of the story by God who has made the story of the Scriptures for us.
This was likely the mindset of the early Church when it came to Epiphany. We remember how Christ was made manifest to humanity in various ways and we are meant to be a part of the story. The story of Epiphany did not end when the Magi went home by a way that bypassed Jerusalem. For what was made manifest to them, that a great king and more than a king, one to be worshipped had been born to Israel; is what is revealed to us through its inclusion in the Gospel’s account. This is true of each of the different stories of manifestation contemplated in the Gospel accounts during the season of Epiphany.
My church uses the 1662/1928 Book of Common Prayer observance of Epiphany, which at points may be slightly different in the Scriptural passages used in the observance of the weeks of Epiphany from some other traditions. Hopefully for others of you, who do not normally follow a strict church calendar, you will enjoy visiting these pages as we develop a theme of Christ being manifested in Scripture passages that you have long loved and enjoyed even as we do even if we do or not like liturgy.
In some years Epiphany which is celebrated on January 6 is followed by as many as six Sundays in the Epiphany season. Some years are less than six because Easter is a moving holy day, and if Easter is early there will be fewer Sundays allotted to the season of Epiphany. But when there are a full six seasons in the observation of the season of Epiphany there is an interesting progression showing how we are part of the story of Epiphany, of God making himself manifest to us.
On January 6 we celebrate Epiphany remembering the coming of the Magi, the wise men bearing gifts of gold, frankincense, and myrrh as they came to view Israel’s king and offer him worship. Upon seeing them they worshipped him. This is the general meaning of Epiphany. Christ is made manifest and we are drawn to worship him.
In the following Sundays we see Christ as a twelve year-old in the Temple, being baptized by John the Baptist in the waters of the Jordan, turning water into wine at a wedding in Cana, healing a leper by touch and a centurion’s servant from a distance, then in the parable of the wheat growing among the tares; and finally there is the Gospel promise how we shall yet see him when his glory is revealed when he shall appear like lightning out of the east.
Of these manifestations, most are connected to events in the past. But these events are for us as much as they were for the ancients who were there, for in the Gospel we are invited to see these stories and to be present in spirit, and to have them impressed upon our lives so that what has been made manifest may actually become a life inspiring epiphany within our own understanding of faith. That we are part of the story of Epiphany is brought home to us in the parable of the wheat growing among the tares in the next to last Sunday of a full Epiphany season. That is where we are all living in the faith. Finally the story of Epiphany is not a story only of the past with present considerations, for we are part of the story of Epiphany in that we await the great revelation and manifestation of the Son of God who shall appear in glory as the lightning flashes from the eastern sky.
Epiphany is the story of Christ being made manifest. This story involves us. We are in this story looking for its glorious conclusion.
For those interested I have written a poem, it’s not a great poem, do manage to force an ABBA rhyme scheme into it, but I try to tell the story of Epiphany in the poem. You can read it here.