Dear Brothers and Sisters,
Happy New Year! I hope you and your family were able to be together during the recent holiday season, which in the U.S. traditionally begins with Thanksgiving and extends through Christmas and New Year’s Day. In accordance with the historic, orthodox Christian worship calendar, the season begins for most Christians in late November with the four Sundays of Advent, followed by Christmas Day, the Twelve Days of Christmas, and Epiphany. Advent celebrates Jesus’ comings, including his first coming (Incarnation and birth) and his second coming (bodily return in glory). Christmas reminds us that Jesus’ Incarnation and birth started everything anew. Epiphany, which occurs on January 6 (and typically is celebrated the prior Sunday), celebrates the revelation of Jesus to the world. This pattern of worship begins the liturgical year with a wonderful reminder that Jesus is at the center of everything God has done and is doing for the salvation of the world. In this letter, I will focus on celebrating Epiphany.
The word epiphany means to “show,” “make known,” or “reveal.” T.F. Torrance beautifully summarizes its biblical significance:
The New Testament constantly thinks of the Parousia [meaning “arrival” or “revealing”] in terms of epiphany, for the relation between the today and the eschaton [referring to the climax of history] is much more a tension between the hidden and the manifest, the veiled and the unveiled, than between dates in calendar time. What is still in the future is the full unveiling of a reality, but the reality itself is fully present here and now. Epiphany reminds us that with the birth of Jesus, God became God with us (Immanuel). With this advent, the Kingdom is now present to us in the person of its King—unveiled (revealed) to us personally, as we await, in hope, the full unveiling (revealing) yet to come when Jesus returns bodily in the fullness of his glory, ushering in the fullness of his Kingdom in a new heaven and new earth. (Incarnation, the Person and Life of Christ, p. 316)
On Epiphany we rejoice in the unveiling of God with us in the person of Jesus. That revealing occurred in the past (Jesus’ first coming), continues in the present (Jesus coming to us through the indwelling Spirit), and will culminate in the yet-future return of Jesus in glory. Jesus, God unveiled to us, come!
On Epiphany, Christians typically commemorate two important events in Jesus’ first coming: the visit of the Magi to pay homage to the infant Jesus (typically celebrated by Christians in the West) and Jesus’ baptism (typically celebrated by Christians in the East). Through his baptism, Jesus was revealed to be God’s unique “beloved Son” (Matthew 3:16-17 ESV).
Through the Magi’s visit (Matthew 2:1-2), Jesus was revealed to be Lord and King of all humanity (Jews and Gentiles alike). The Magi were the first Gentiles to acknowledge Jesus as King, and thus through them, the incarnate Christ was revealed to the wider world. Their act of worship (Matthew 2:10-11) corresponded to Simeon’s prophetic statement that Jesus would be “a light for revelation to the Gentiles and the glory of your people Israel” (Luke 2:25-32). This was one of the earliest indications that Jesus’ vicarious life embraces all people, nations and races.
Commemorating these events on Epiphany reminds us of the mission of the church. As disciples of Jesus, we are called to participate in what our Lord is doing, by the Spirit, in all the world. We are called to share in his work to reveal himself and his salvation—a salvation that he has made available to all humanity.
Epiphany reminds us that in our union with Christ, we can enjoy communion with him as we participate with him in his continuing mediation and ministry for us and the whole world. This includes what he is doing to reveal himself to be who he truly is: the Light of the world. As we think about our calling, Epiphany reveals to us that we are not thrown back upon our own resources and efforts in this participation, but that all things are in and under Jesus, the Lord and Savior of all. In that we trust and rely, and because of that we celebrate!
Looking forward to another year of life in and with Christ,
PS. For additional information about Epiphany, see the recent Surprising God blog post at http://thesurprisinggodblog.gci.org/2015/12/advent-and-epiphany.html.