On the twelfth day of Christmas my true love gave to me—Epiphany! We all know and adore the “Twelve Days of Christmas” song. We enjoy the challenge of trying to remember every part. Children especially enjoy singing it. This beloved song brings to mind the tradition throughout the history of the church to celebrate twelve days of Christmas, beginning with Christmas Day on December 25 and ending on the day of Epiphany, traditionally celebrated on January 6. On that day the Christmas tide flows into the season of Epiphany.
Epiphany comes from two Greek words epi and phaino. Together the two words mean “to show forth” or “appear.” In the Epiphany season the church focuses on showing forth or making known to the whole world the newborn Christ as “God in the flesh.” (Charles A. Gieschen, “Preaching Through the Seasons of the Church Year” in Liturgical Preaching, 94). Epiphany uncovers who Jesus is and so forms the foundation for understanding what he has done for us, the focus of the Lent and Easter seasons.
Four events from Jesus’ life are highlighted through the readings during Epiphany: the visit of the Magi to Jesus sometime after his birth (Mt 2:1-12), the baptism of Jesus (Mt 3:13-17; Mk 1:4-11; Lk 3:15-17, 21-22), the miracle of changing water into wine at the wedding of Cana (Jn 2:1-11), and the transfiguration of our Lord (Mt 17:1-9; Mk 9:2-9; Lk 9:28-36). The theme of “making Christ known to all nations” is found in the account of the Magi and continues to show itself in the other readings during the Epiphany season (Charles A. Gieschen, “Preaching Through the Seasons of the Church Year” in Liturgical Preaching, 95).
The theme of “making Christ known to all nations” comes to our doorstep as members of the church. We are invited not only to recall the truth that Jesus died and rose for the whole world but to act on it by witnessing to all people, including those across the street, in our family, in the same aisle of the grocery store, and in the cubicle next to us. We can take seriously this Epiphany theme of “making Christ known” by focusing on Jesus’ way of witnessing. In his book, Speaking of Jesus: Finding the Words for Witness (Fortress Press, 1982), Richard Lischer highlights five ways that Jesus himself spoke the gospel to others. We can use these five ways as an example when applying the theme of Epiphany to our lives. We can also use these five ways as a mirror in which we see how we have often failed to “give a reason for the hope we have in Christ” (1 Pet 3:15). In this way we can be positioned to turn to the foot of the cross and receive God’s forgiveness in Christ. Jesus’ five modes of communicating the gospel, according to Lischer, are paraphrased as follows:
He was an active listener and used the questions of the other person as a way to understand that person and probe that person’s heart (cf. Mk 10:17-18).
Jesus was concerned for the whole person—body and soul. He forgave the sick and healed the sinners. And so we are called to forgive others (Mt 18), continuing the ministry of reconciliation (2 Cor 5:10-19).
Jesus was “on location.” He went to where the people were—the bank, the city park, the local store, the neighborhood—and reached out to them in their life situations (Mt 4:18-25; Lk 19:1-10). He didn’t wait for them to come to church. And so we can bring the gospel of all healing, peace, and comfort to people.
Jesus communicated in simple language and often spoke in parables employing common, everyday objects from the life and work of the people to make his points (Mt 13; Jn 7:37-39).
Jesus moved people to repentance (Mk 1:15). We often hear the saying, “Jesus loves you just the way you are.” This is true. However, he also has no plans of leaving us “the way we are.” This is how much he loves us.
I pray that all of you have a blessed Epiphany season. Celebrate it with “Epiphany parties” or other traditional celebrations like “the King’s cake,” “the Magi-chalk blessing,” or the “Epiphany candlelight” (you can do an internet search to learn more about these traditions). Though, in the middle of all of these celebrations I pray that we also “become all things to all men” (1 Cor 9:22) as we make Jesus known to our family members, our friends, neighbors, and our coworkers. May we join the shepherds on that first Christmas to glorify and praise God for all the things we have heard and seen (Lk 2:20).