by Amanda Gerber
A Brief Epiphany Reflection
Authors Note: This is my third and final post of the Advent-Christmas-Epiphany act of the liturgical year. This will not be nearly as long as my Advent or Christmas posts. If you read those and are still following along, props to you, and thank you!
Ah, Epiphany. You strange season. No one really knows what you are … not to mention knowing how to actually celebrate you.
My Anglican journey has included (as you may have guessed) a fascination with and desire to learn more about the liturgical seasons, even the obscure ones like Epiphany. There is still so much to discover, but it is a privilege to be able share with you what I am learning.
What is Epiphany?
The word epiphany literally means “manifestation.” Epiphany is observed on January 6 (the day after Christmas ends), and celebrates Christ’s manifestation specifically to the Gentiles. This revelation of Jesus to the Gentile world began with the magi, or kings, or wise men, or astrologers or…? There is much debate over who these men were and where exactly they came from. Magi is the actual Greek word used in Matthew’s gospel account, but this article argues that “wise men” and “kings” are also acceptable terms. I appreciated how our Children’s Pastor, Christy, reminded us on Christmas Eve that they probably came well after Jesus was born — he was likely a toddler when they arrived in Bethlehem.
I found some of the Merriam-Webster definitions of the word “epiphany” to be insightful:
3a (1) : a usually sudden manifestation or perception of the essential nature or meaning of something
(2) : an intuitive grasp of reality through something (such as an event) usually simple and striking
(3) : an illuminating discovery, realization, or disclosure
b : a revealing scene or moment
These definitions remind me of how our eyes are opened to the gospel, to the “essential nature and meaning” of God’s works, and how suddenly it sometimes seems that we are able to see Him more clearly. Of how “simple and striking” the good news is. How our minds and hearts are “illuminated” by a power beyond our own, as God reveals Himself to us, breaking into our lives not just once but continually. Our Advent longing for God to come and reveal Himself and work in our lives isn’t just a hopeful wish, but a glorious reality.
By God’s grace this reality is for Jew and Gentile, and those of every tribe, tongue, and nation are invited to fully partake in His kingdom. In Ephesians 3:4-12, Paul says:
In reading this, then, you will be able to understand my insight into the mystery of Christ, which was not made known to people in other generations as it has now been revealed by the Spirit to God’s holy apostles and prophets. This mystery is that through the gospel the Gentiles are heirs together with Israel, members together of one body, and sharers together in the promise in Christ Jesus.
I became a servant of this gospel by the gift of God’s grace given me through the working of his power. Although I am less than the least of all the Lord’s people, this grace was given me: to preach to the Gentiles the boundless riches of Christ, and to make plain to everyone the administration of this mystery, which for ages past was kept hidden in God, who created all things. His intent was that now, through the church, the manifold wisdom of God should be made known to the rulers and authorities in the heavenly realms, according to his eternal purpose that he accomplished in Christ Jesus our Lord. In him and through faith in him we may approach God with freedom and confidence.
Epiphany reminds us that not only is Christ made known to us, but that through us, the church, He is made known to the world. We don’t just hear the story, we become part of the story. We are His light and bear His image wherever we go. It isn’t our own light that shines but we are witnesses to the true light, reflecting God’s glory. Matthew 5:16 says, “In the same way, let your light shine before others, that they may see your good deeds and glorify your Father in heaven.” Our prayer should be that as we are sent out as light in this world, our lives would bear fruit, and our works would cause others to glorify our Father.
The more I learn of God’s grace and His gospel, the less pressure I feel to force conversations with people, as though I am the means to another person’s salvation and that the burden is on me to convince them. Salvation belongs to the Lord. It is God’s power, His invitation, His initiative, His revelation. There is freedom in seeing the immensity of His power and might and love compared to ours. And this gives us freedom to speak, but also to listen. Freedom to go, but also to wait. Not freedom from sharing His good news but rather freedom to share it, to be a part of what He’s already doing, knowing that it’s not our power that accomplishes it.
God certainly had a mysterious way of revealing Himself to those magi. God not only put that star in the sky but also revealed the significance of it, compelling the magi to make the journey to Bethlehem. God doesn’t leave humanity to their own efforts and devices, expecting us to somehow find Him on our own. He put on flesh and came to dwell with us, uniting Himself to us, so that we might know Him and be known by Him. We can ask God, as the Epiphany collect says, to “Lead us, who know you now by faith, to your presence, where we may see your glory face to face.”
My husband Nicholas and I were first introduced to Epiphany long before we were Anglicans, during our time in Mexico with YWAM. We partnered with an existing church there and were graciously welcomed into their community for a few months. Christmas was a cultural spectacle in that region of Mexico, and, (understandably,) the Christian church took a stance against it by mostly withdrawing from the celebration altogether. Christmas came and went with hardly an acknowledgement amongst our new friends. Little did we know of the party and feast that awaited us when we walked through the doors of Joel and Laurencia’s home on the evening of January the 6th. We certainly weren’t prepared for the bestowing of gifts– we had brought nothing to reciprocate! Since then we have remembered our time in Mexico by observing Epiphany each year. We save at least one gift for January 6 and often feast on Mexican food and “rosca de reyes” (king’s bread) that day.
Practical ideas for celebrating Epiphany:
- Save one last gift for this day, because this is truly the day for giving gifts! This helps extend the Christmas celebration to it’s full length.
- Have an Epiphany party!
- With younger children (and I’m kicking myself for not mentioning this in the Christmas post), keep the magi out of your nativity until Christmas. Each day of the twelve days of Christmas, hide them somewhere else in the house, until they finally arrive to visit and give gifts to Jesus on January 6.
- A meaningful Epiphany tradition is called “chalking the door.” According to this website, “The crosses symbolize Christ. The three letters have a double meaning. They’re the initials for the traditional names of the Magi: Caspar, Melchior, and Balthasar. And they’re an acronym for a Latin blessing, Christus mansionem benedicat, which means, ‘May Christ bless this house.’” You might have read about this in recent editions of IAC notes which reminded us that “the chalk, as it slowly wears throughout the year, serves as a reminder that Christ dwells with us wherever we are, and that our home is a missionary outpost of His kingdom.” Sign up here to have an IAC staff member come and chalk your door.
- Choose your favorite ethnic food to eat on Epiphany to help remember our unity in Christ with all believers across the globe.
- Make your own King’s bread, or find one at a hispanic bakery in town.
- Sing or listen to Epiphany carols: Jesus Shall Reign Where’er the Sun, What Child Is This?, We Three Kings, As With Gladness Men of Old, Brightest and Best
As we head into this season after Epiphany we can live into the ministry and work God has put before us in whichever sphere of work and life we are part of. There is no secular/sacred divide. We are co-creators with Him in this world, stewarding what He has given, and all can be done to His glory. May we be faithful to what He has called us to, trusting Him with our successes and failures, with our victories and our defeats. May we know His presence and love when things go well, when there is fire and wind, when we feel His love. And may we know His presence and love when there is silence, and when all we feel is a “sheer, thin emptiness” (a.k.a. a “still, small voice” — See 1 Kings 19.)
God is faithful to his promises, even when we are not. His faithfulness is greater than our unfaithfulness. His grace is greater than our sin. When we rest in this, we are free to follow Him and shine His light in this world.