Inhabiting the Christian Year: Epiphany

This is part 4 of a series looking at the Western Christian year. For other posts in the series, click a number: 12, 3, 5.

So far in this series, we've looked at the meaning of Advent (the season of waiting) and Christmas (the season of wonder). Now we'll look at the meaning of Epiphany---the season of manifestation, which focuses on key events in Jesus' earthly life that manifest (reveal) his identity as the incarnate Son of God, our Savior.

Our word epiphany comes from the Greek word epiphaneia, meaning “to cause to appear” or “to bring to light.” Bobby Gross, in Living the Christian Year: Time to Inhabit the Story of God, notes that the Greek word
can refer to the visible manifestation of a deity (also in ancient writings, the arrival of a ruler honored like a god) or to an experience of sudden insight or revelation: those “aha” moments when we “see the light.” (p. 83)
The apostle Paul used epiphaneia in referring to the manifestation (appearing) of the Son of God at his first coming (2 Tim. 1:10) and at his future second coming (Titus 2:13). In the early church, the manifestation of the first coming (birth) was celebrated on January 6 (called the feast of Epiphany). When a December 25 (Christmas Day) celebration of the birth was added to the worship calendar, Epiphany focused on other events in Jesus’ life that revealed his identity as the Son of God incarnate.

Today, as reflected in the Revised Common Lectionary (RCL), Epiphany is viewed as a season, which starts on January 6, then stretches through Transfiguration Sunday, which precedes Ash Wednesday, which then begins the Season of Lent. During Epiphany Season (which varies in length from five to nine weeks, depending on the date for Easter), worship “continues to emphasize the manifestation of Christ to the world” (Gross, p. 86). Addressing the meaning of this for our worship today, Gross points out that 

Epiphany is a season for seeing more of Christ’s glory by focusing on his life and mission. Simultaneously, it’s a time for making that glory better known to those around us. We bear witness to what we have seen and learned and experienced. Herein lies a spiritual paradox: not only do we say what we see, we also see as we say. Epiphany, then, is a time both to inhabit the Story and to tell the Story, for in the telling itself we are further enlightened. (p. 84)
"Adoration of the Magi" (public domain)

During Epiphany Season, the RCL's readings (lections) take us to various stories in the synoptic Gospels: the visit of the Magi revealing Jesus to the Gentiles (Matt. 2:1-12), the event in the temple where Simeon and Anna encounter Jesus and rejoice in “seeing salvation” (Luke 2:22-4), Jesus’ baptism in the Jordan where he is revealed to be the beloved Son of God (Matt. 3:13-17) and Jesus’ transfiguration where something of his glory is shown to three of his disciples (Luke 9:28-36). Readings in John’s Gospel involve various miraculous “signs” that point to Jesus’ identity: changing water into wine (John 2:1-11), feeding 5,000 (John 6:1-14), walking on water (John 6:16-21), healing the blind (John 9:1-12), etc. Readings in the epistles emphasize the revelation of Christ and how that “epiphany” changes a person (e.g. 2 Cor. 3:18).

As we hear these readings and listen to sermons unpacking their meaning, we are once again immersed in the stories that reveal to us Jesus’ true nature as  the incarnate Son of God, the light of life come into the world, revealed to us through the Spirit. As we inhabit these stories, we are transformed and Christ is manifested anew in us. Then Christ is manifested through us as we share the love and light of Jesus with others---joining the Holy Spirit in his ministries of evangelism. Bobby Gross sums it up this way:

During the weeks of Epiphany… we focus our gaze on Jesus in order to glimpse his glory, his transfigured beauty and power, his embodied grace and truth. And what we are given to see, we gladly speak of to our friends that they might share with us the light of Christ. (p. 94)

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