I know that many of you were looking forward to the series on Darwin, Science, Faith and God, and don’t worry, we will start that sermon series in two weeks. However, this Sunday and next I decided I wanted to tackle the Epiphany texts. We haven’t often made a big deal about Epiphany in this church, and many Presbyterian (and protestant for that matter) churches don’t. I would surmise that this is because many protestants have associated the holiday with the Roman Catholic tradition. It is a pity, because there are some wonderfully powerful messages that come out of the celebration of Epiphany.
Epiphany is connected to the calendar day of January 6—which is 12 days after Christmas (thus the song the Twelve Days of Christmas). The English word “Epiphany” comes from two Greek roots “epi” meaning “near or in the presence” and “phaino,” meaning “shine, light, reveal, or vision.” Essentially, what we are saying is that the presence of God is being revealed. In Eastern Christianity, the holiday is actually known as Theophany, and literally translates as “vision of God” (“theo” meaning God). There are two particular biblical stories that are connected to this celebration—The Magi, and the Baptism of Christ. Both are stories about the revealing of God in the form of Jesus Christ, and both have something special to teach us if we consider them with the understanding of Epiphany.
The story of the Magi is the revealing of Christ to the Gentiles—those not descended from Israel. The book of Matthew is the only biblical book to relate this particular story. Matthew definitely has an agenda by telling this particular story, and by connecting it to the story of the flight to Egypt by the Holy Family. What is even more important, is who the Magi were—part of the reason I decided to delay Darwin and spend time on Epiphany is because I was tired of hearing about Wisemen and Kings—both of which are gross misunderstandings of who the Magi were! I will say a great deal more about this in the sermon on Sunday.
It is fairly common for us to spend this Sunday of the liturgical year talking about Christ’s baptism, but we have rarely spoken of it in the context of Epiphany. Rather, we have spoken of it in the context of ordination and installation of church officers. That is a very Presbyterian thing to do, but in some ways, it misses just what is being implied by celebrating Christ’s Baptism within the context of Epiphany. In the Baptism of Christ, God is being revealed to us. In a world in which so much is shrouded in mystery and in which the divine often seems illusive, we are being told that the story of Christ’s baptism is the revealing of God. Indeed, this tells us something of the nature of all of our baptisms—through baptism it is revealed that God’s presence is with us—always has been and always will be!
Finally, after we have spent a season of advent that focuses on the light that is coming into the world, it is important to note the other meanings associated with Epiphany—The overwhelming light of Christ in our presence! Each Sunday of Advent we lit candles one by one, to demonstrate the growing anticipation of the light of the coming Christ Child. Light amidst the darkness of winter. Light amidst the darkness that we see in the world around us. The light of Christ that is revealed to us. Symbols of Epiphany are closely associated with that star the Magi followed and John’s “light that was coming into the world.”
Epiphany has some important messages for us, and shouldn’t just be skipped over. I would encourage you to take time to reflect upon the light that you see in your life. The light that Christ has brought into your reality. And know too, that with your baptism, you are a bearer of that light. Just as God’s presence was revealed in the baptism of Christ, so too, God’s presence is illuminated in our own lives as we remember our baptism this Sunday, and give thanks!