On faith: The forgotten celebration of epiphany
By: Pastor Tom Murray, Lutsen Lutheran Church, Lake County News Chronicle
This coming Sunday, Jan. 6, is special. Why? Epiphany falls on a Sunday! The Day of The Epiphany of Our Lord is always celebrated on Jan. 6. Since that date only falls on a Sunday once every seven years or so, we simply tend to pass right by it without even remembering that it is a holy day. After all, we’ve just gathered with family and friends to celebrate Christmas and New Year’s Day … why add yet another celebration so soon?
And yet, Epiphany was once one of the great celebrations of the Christian Church. People of faith gathered to celebrate Epiphany centuries before Christmas became what it is today. In fact, Christians were already observing Epiphany by the middle of the fourth century. In some cultures the celebration of the Epiphany still includes a blessing of the home which recalls the magi’s visit to the home of Mary and Joseph to worship the child Jesus.
The word Epiphany means “manifestation.” It is our celebration of God’s revelation to people outside of our faith. Our observance of Epiphany traditionally centers on three events in the life of Jesus: The visit of the magi, Jesus’ baptism, and Jesus’ miracle of turning water into wine at Cana. In the Orthodox Church, the focus of Epiphany centers on Jesus’ baptism. Our western tradition tends to focus more on the visit of the magi, which we often also include in our Christmas Eve celebrations.
The story of the visit of the wise men is perhaps one of the most misunderstood stories in scripture. It is a beautiful story, and a wonderful addition to our Christmas Eve narrative, but it is also a story filled with darkness and death. The story ends with the deaths of innocent children because of King Herod’s fear of the child who has been born in Bethlehem. In many ways, it is a powerful story for us to remember even as we bask in the glow of Christmas.
Why is Epiphany important to us today? Its importance lies in God’s mission for our community. As disciples of the risen Christ, God continues to be revealed to us. Each time we gather to worship we sense God’s presence in the Word and Sacrament. It is here that we see God most clearly, and we step back out into the world believing that we have been forgiven and that we share eternal life with God.
Epiphany reminds us that we are the ones called to reveal God to those who live in darkness. We do this by living out the gospel, not just in worship, but each day as active participants in the lives of others. Epiphany reminds us that the importance of our churches centers on people who don’t gather to worship with us on Sundays. God chooses to be revealed to them, too. We are called to reach out beyond our walls and be the gospel here along the North Shore so that others may one day find the joy that we have found in Christ.
This Jan. 6 is the only time that many of us will observe Epiphany on a Sunday between the years 2008 and 2019. Don’t miss it! I invite you to attend any church along the Shore this Sunday to celebrate The Epiphany of Our Lord.