What is Epiphany?
The word Epiphany means “appearing,” “manifestation,” or “revealing.” Often, we use the color white and think of the imagery of light and brightness. Throughout the season of Epiphany, the church focuses on how God has appeared and revealed Himself through our Lord Jesus Christ, the very light of the world (John 8:12). We follow readings and themes that focus on specific events in Jesus life, emphasizing how God has been made known to the world through Jesus Christ. Because these events are so central to the Christian faith and life, there are a number of feasts and commemorations during the season of Epiphany.
The Epiphany of Our Lord is on January 6. In western churches, Epiphany is celebrated with the arrival of the magi from the East (see Matthew 2:1-12). The visit of the magi shows that God has shined His light upon the Gentiles, and that all people are included in His plan of salvation. Though some churches will celebrate this feast on its proper day, many churches will transfer it to the Sunday nearest January 6.
The Baptism of Our Lord is observed on the first Sunday after Epiphany. The baptism of Jesus marks the beginning of His earthly ministry, when He was baptized by John in the Jordan River, anointed by the Holy Spirit, and declared to be the Beloved Son of the Father. See Matthew 3:13-17. It is also a time for us to remember what God has done for us in our own baptisms, when we were given the Holy Spirit, declared children of God, and set on the path to follow in the way of Jesus Christ.
Other important occurrences that fall in the Epiphany season are The Confession of St. Peter (January 18), The Commemoration of St. Timothy (January 24), and The Conversion of St. Paul (January 25). While not all churches have the luxury of daily services in which these feasts and commemorations may be celebrated, it is important for us as faithful Christians to remember the “great cloud of witnesses” that surrounds us (cf. Hebrews 12:1).
Several years ago Concordia Publishing House released a daily devotional called Treasury of Daily Prayer. Each day has an assigned psalm, Old and New Testament lessons, reading from the church fathers, collect of the day, hymn stanza, and suggested reading from the Book of Concord. It also has many commemorations of the Church’s faithful confessors and martyrs. The Treasury has been my regular devotional for the last several years. I consider it an invaluable resource for ordered daily prayer and recommend it without reservation.
The Transfiguration of Our Lord is celebrated on the last Sunday of Epiphany. The church remembers when Jesus went up on the mountain with Peter, James, and John, and was “transfigured” in front of them. On the mountain Jesus spoke about His “departure” (“exodus” in Greek) with Moses and Elijah. The Transfiguration of Jesus connects the Old and New Testaments. It connects Israel with the Church. It is here that Moses, Elijah, Peter, James, and John are united in Christ. Not long after Jesus comes down from the mountain, He “sets His face toward Jerusalem,” which is to say, He begins His steady march toward the cross (Luke 9:51). Likewise, just a few days later, on Ash Wednesday, the Church will enter the penitential season of Lent, and follow Jesus on His journey to Jerusalem where He will give His life for the world. See the Transfiguration accounts in Matthew 17:1–13; Mark 9:2-13; and Luke 9:28–36.
May the light of Christ shine upon you and through you this Epiphany season.
Yours in Christ,