(Note: This is part three of a series about the seasons of the Church year. For the first one, go here.)
Perhaps one of the most misunderstood seasons of the year is Epiphany.
It sneaks in at the end of Christmas, when most of the world is
bemoaning the weight they gained during November and December and the
amount of money they’ve spent in the past few months. It gets little
notice, even in church, because we’re so worried about everything else
that’s going on.
Epiphany falls on January 6th. It is the celebration of the Magi coming to visit Jesus, as recorded in Matthew 2.
Epiphany is the celebration of Jesus revealing himself to the
Gentiles. The shepherds were the first to know and pay their respects.
But God then allowed the Magi to find out, and they also came to
worship. Tradition holds that there were three wise men, known as
Melchior, Caspar, and Balthazar.
The first Sunday after the Epiphany is known as “The Baptism of our Lord
Jesus Christ”. The Gospel readings are from Matthew 3, Mark 1, and
Luke 3, and deal with Jesus coming down to the Jordan to be baptized by
John. It is here that Christ is revealed as the Son of God: “This is My
beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased.” (Mt. 3:17).
The next few weeks are known as “Ordinary Time”, and the color is green.
The time is ordinary, not in the sense of being common or everyday,
but in the sense of being counted. There are at least four Sundays and
at most nine Sundays after the Epiphany. The number of Sundays varies
by year and is dependent on the first day of Lent, called Ash Wednesday,
which is in turn dependent on the date of Easter.
The Revised Common Lectionary (RCL) is set up so that each year, if
Easter falls early and therefore the Season After Epiphany is short,
those readings can be taken in the weeks following Pentecost (since that
season will be longer in years when Easter is early). If Easter is
later, however, more Sundays will fall between Epiphany and Ash
Wednesday, and fewer between Pentecost and Christ the King, so the first
few readings of the season after Pentecost are used in Epiphany.
Further, the Sunday readings all deal with Christ revealing himself to
us. So we read about the wedding at Cana (Jesus revealing himself as
the Son of God to his disciples through the miracle of turning water to
wine), and so forth. Each Sunday deals with Jesus revealing himself to
us as the Savior.
In Anglican, Lutheran, Methodist, and other Protestant churches which follow the
RCL, the final Sunday after Epiphany is known as Transfiguration Sunday.
The readings are from Matthew 17, Mark 9, and Luke 9, where Jesus was
transfigured before Peter, James, and John. Christ is again revealed as
the Son of God: “This is My beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased.
Hear Him!” (Mt. 17:5) This is the ultimate revelation, the climax in
our discovery of who Christ is. One of my favorite hymns for the day is
Charles Wesley’s “Christ, Whose Glory Fills the Skies”.
Epiphany is about growth, about Christ revealing himself to us. Christ
reveals himself to us as we journey through life. The question is
whether we will recognize him and follow him.