In those places where Christmas is celebrated on December 25, many of us spend the first days of the new year calculating the cost of Christmas. In those global areas where gifting others, including one's immediate family, is practiced, our generosity often exceeds our immediate resources. It is obvious that commentary could be referenced in relationship to this. But that must wait another day.
Since the fourth century, the Christian Church has celebrated Epiphany. It hasn't always agreed about the date, nor has it achieved universal agreement regarding the exclusive message surrounding the event. In fact, Epiphany is a much richer tradition than merely observing a communal recollection of our Lord's baptism.
Dennis Bratcher offers this compelling examination of the tradition surrounding Epiphany:
Significance of Epiphany in the Church
As with most aspects of the Christian liturgical calendar, Epiphany has theological significance as a teaching tool in the church. The Wise Men, or Magi, who brought gifts to the child Jesus were the first Gentiles to acknowledge Jesus as "King" and so were the first to "show" or "reveal" Jesus to a wider world as the incarnate Christ.
This act of worship by the Magi, which corresponded to Simeon's blessing that this child Jesus would be "a light for revelation to the Gentiles" (Luke 2:32), was one of the first indications that Jesus came for all people, of all nations, of all races, and that the work of God in the world would not be limited to only a few.
The day is now observed as a time of focusing on the mission of the church in reaching others by "showing" Jesus as the Savior of all people. It is also a time of focusing on Christian brotherhood and fellowship, especially in healing the divisions of prejudice and bigotry that we all too often create between God's children.¹
I find the concept of "focusing on the mission of the church in reaching others by 'showing' Jesus as the Savior of all people" most compelling. What better way could the church spend the first days, weeks, and months of the new year than to think about its mission?
In an era of great change in the collective life of the church, reconnecting with the spirit of Epiphany would not only put us in touch with sacred tradition but would also challenge the Church to lay aside any preoccupation with itself, refocusing its energies, intercession, and activity outwards.
The cost of discipleship is never cheap. Just ask the beleaguered members of the persecuted church. Yet in the face of persecution and marginalization the Body of Christ continues to persist and even grow in such settings.
Is it too much to think that we in areas of relative tranquility and safety spend the first days and weeks of the new year reflecting on the mission of the Church?
1 www.crivoice.org/cyepiph.html, Copyright © 2009 CRI/Voice, Institute
Holiness Today, January/February 2012
Please note: This article was originally published in 2012. All facts, figures, and titles were accurate to the best of our knowledge at that time but may have since changed.