Epiphany is like that lost holiday that no one really knows what to do with. We’re so ready to get back to work or get back to school after the “holidays” are over that we seem to forget that Christmas isn’t the end of things. Traditionally, Christmas has been a season, not an event, and that season leads up to Epiphany on January 6.
Why does this even matter? Epiphany isn’t that attractive as a holiday in our culture. There are no gifts to be bought, no new clothes to wear to church, no long trips to see family members, no marketing campaigns from Hallmark to make us feel guilty about not purchasing a card or trinket, no jewelry stores accusing every man within 60 miles of not caring about his wife, there’s none of that. That’s probably not a bad thing. Strip all of the excess away and epiphany is really about the same thing Christmas is about: joy and gratitude.
Epiphany celebrates several things, all wrapped around one theme. First, the visitation of the wise men from the east to see Jesus. Second, the baptism of Jesus by John in the Jordan. Third, Jesus beginning his public ministry by miraculously turning water into wine at Cana. The theme: Christ is revealed to all people. Jesus is not confined as simply the Jewish Messiah – though he was nothing less – he is the only Savior for the world. Epiphany completes Advent and Christmas. In Advent, Christ is promised. In Christmas, he comes. In Epiphany, he is revealed to the world. As Simeon sings when Jesus is presented at the temple, Jesus is “a light for revelation to the Gentiles, and for glory to your people Israel.” (Luke 2.32)
Presbyterians, like me, have not been good at all at giving Epiphany its proper due and celebration. There are two hymns in the Trinity Hymnal section labeled Epiphany. (And that doesn’t even include “From the Eastern Mountains”, a terrible omission.) Thankfully, God has not left us alone. The Lutheran and Anglican churches have rich hymnody concerning this celebration.
From the Eastern Mountains
Godfrey Thring, 1873
From the eastern mountains, pressing on, they come,
wise men in their wisdom, to his humble home;
stirred by deep devotion, hasting from afar,
ever journeying onward, guided by a star.
There their Lord and Savior meek and lowly lay,
wondrous Light that led them onward on their way,
ever now to lighten nations from afar,
as they journey homeward by that guiding star.
Thou who in a manger once hast lowly lain,
who dost now in glory o’er all kingdoms reign,
gather in the heathen who in lands afar
ne’er have seen the brightness of thy guiding star.
Gather in the outcasts, all who’ve gone astray,
Throw Thy radiance o’er them, guide them on their way.
Those who never knew Thee, those who’ve wandered far,
Guide them by the brightness of Thy guiding star.
Onward through the darkness of the lonely night,
shining still before them with thy kindly light.
Guide them, Jew and Gentile, homeward from afar,
young and old together, by thy guiding Star.