The Pastor's Pen
The publication of this edition of the Screamer falls on Epiphany, the 6th of January, and accordingly I’d like to explore with you this multifaceted term. First, the word comes to us from a Greek word that means “appearance” or “manifestation.” It was often used to describe the appearance of a god, or the revealing of the power associated with that god. In the intertestamental period, kings began to add it to their titles as a regal epithet. Most notable in our tradition would be Antiochus Epiphanies remembered for his desecration of the temple at Jerusalem offering sacrifices to Zeus.
At one time in the early Christian church, Epiphany was one of three major festivals along with Easter and Pentecost. That role has diminished over the centuries and the 6th of January has taken on a Janus-like nature looking both forward and backward. Backward in the sense that the Christmas season does not liturgically end until the eve of Epiphany. The twelve days of Christmas with its continuous feasting and merry-making have a religious as well as a social side. In the East the season is “fast-free” while in the West we recognize several saints, including St. Stephan and St. John, the holy-innocents, and the circumcision of Jesus during the twelve days. On the social side, the popular “Twelve Days of Christmas,” originally published in 1780, with its cumulative gifts reminds us of the gifts of the Christ-child that starts the season and the gifts of the Magi, gold and frankincense and myrrh, that signals its conclusion.
Looking forward, Epiphany begins the third season of the Church Year that celebrates the manifestation, and from our perspective, the revelation of Jesus as the Son of God. This emphasis of the season can be seen in the gospel readings assigned to both ends of this “adjustable” season. (Adjustable because transfiguration Sunday’s date is defined by Ash Wednesday.) Matthew 2.1-12, the coming of the Magi, is read on Epiphany Sunday. The Magi ask for the king of the Jews who has been born, but Herod refines their search asking where the Christ, the Lord’s anointed was to be born. On the second and the last Sunday’s of Epiphany we hear the voice of the Father, “this is my beloved Son” at His baptism in the Jordan and on the mountain of transfiguration.
In between these events the color of the season changes from white to green but the reading from each of the lectionary series continues to focus on answering the central question, “who is this Jesus born of Mary?” This year, in series C, we go first to Cana’s wedding feast, and then to Nazareth with Luke to hear Jesus claim the title of “anointed,” the Christ. From there we go to Capernaum where Jesus casts out demons and heals disease and then to the Sea of Galilee and on to the Sermon on the Plain.
Who is this Jesus born of Mary? He is a man like you and I, but He is also true God, begotten of His Father before all worlds. I pray that this Epiphany season we will come to trust in Him more and more as our one and only hope of salvation.