(Each month Ms. Townsend will answer questions which have been asked by members of our congregation or respond to issues which come up in general conversation.)
Dear Ms. Townsend,
What is Epiphany? Momma always told us it was the time when the Wise Men visited the Christ Child. I’ve heard it called “Old Christmas.” My neighbor calls it “Theophany.” Tell me more.
Wants to Know
“Epiphany” comes from a Greek word literally meaning “manifestation” or “appearance” and celebrates the revelation of God as a human being in Jesus Christ. This festival, also called the Twelfth Day of Christmas, falls on January 6. In the Western Church we emphasize the visitation of the three wise men because this is Jesus’ firm connection to us – the gentiles. Eastern Christians emphasize the Baptism of Jesus because this is when God tells the world who Jesus is. (“This is my beloved Son…) We, too, celebrate the Baptism of Our Lord and do it on the Sunday following January 6.
The fixed date of January 6 for Epiphany was established very early in the history of the Church – around 300AD. Eighty years later St. Gregory of Nazianzus preached a sermon in which he called this day “Theophany” and your neighbor is correct calling Epiphany by that name. Theophany literally means God making Himself known or God shining forth.
Epiphany is not just a day, January 6, but an entire Church season ending with Shrove Tuesday, the day before Ash Wednesday. It is a common practice among European Lutherans to write over their entrance doors K + M + B, the initials of the three wise men, Kaspar, Melchior, and Balthasar.
In our mountain tradition, “Old Christmas” is celebrated by having a party and taking down the Christmas decorations. Unfortunately we have gotten away from that practice and many people end Christmas on December 26 as soon as the packages have been unwrapped and the stores are through pushing us to buy Christmas gifts.
You will see in worship that the Biblical texts of Epiphany attest to who God is and what He has done to bring His message into our world. The season will end with the Feast of Transfiguration, which in 2015 falls on February 15. This year Easter is on March 5.