Jan. 6, 2013
Background Scripture: Philippians 1:12-30
Devotional Reading: John 3:16-21
In many churches immediately following the Twelve Nights of Christmas, Jan. 6 is celebrated as the Day of Epiphany, the first day of the Epiphany Season that may last from 4-6 Sundays, depending upon the date of Easter.
I confess I didn’t even know the meaning of the name Epiphany until I went to my first parish after seminary. In the 57 years since then, I have had a growing appreciation and devotion of Epiphany and its season.
Epiphany is a Greek word meaning “manifestation” and its season is dedicated to our awareness of God’s revealing or manifesting Himself through Jesus Christ to His people and to the world. The root of the word “epiphany” was often used to describe the dawn, the entrance of light into the world.
At the time of Jesus’ birth, the day that is Jan. 6 now would then have been Dec. 21, the winter solstice, when the days begin to be longer and light begins to return to the world. A change in calendars in the 4th century B.C. changed the solstice date to Dec. 25 and by the 4th century A.D. the church moved the celebration of Christ’s birth from Jan. 6 to Dec. 25.
The visit of the wise men to the manger is associated with this day, because this visit by three Gentiles symbolized the Good News as universal for the whole world.
Like many Christians, I am often deeply annoyed and resentful of the galloping commercialization and trivialization of Christmas by our secular culture. This year Christmas began to appear in the stores here around Halloween. But I am reminded that before there was a Christmas, Dec. 25 was celebrated as the “Saturnalia” and that Christians begged, borrowed or stole the date from the pagan world.
So, I am forced to conclude the only way to “save” Christmas for Christ is not to have a hissy fit over the secularized “Happy Holidays,” but to make our observance of the Incarnation something more spiritually and significantly powerful.
The epiphany task
Epiphany is an opportunity for Christians to perpetuate the Christmas miracle long after the presents have worn out, the wrappers consigned to trash and the decorations put back in their boxes.
Not only are we called to continue to see Christ manifested in us and the world in which we live, but if Christmas has any purpose of all, it is for us to take upon ourselves the task of Epiphany: Manifesting the God incarnate in Jesus Christ wherever we are and in whatever we are doing.
Instead of complaining that Christmas is “over too soon,” we need to remember that it is only over if we stop finding Christ revealed in the world and in our day-to-day lives.
Repeatedly in Philippians1:12-30, we find Paul saying this very thing. First, he is happy that despite his imprisonment, God is able to manifest the good news of Jesus Christ: “I want you to know, beloved, that what has happened to me has actually helped to spread the gospel so that it became known throughout the whole imperial guard and to everyone else that my imprisonment is for Christ …” And this encouraged others to witness for Christ (1:12-14).
Even those who are preaching to discredit Paul are unwittingly participating in manifesting Christ in Rome (1:15-17). Further, even if he ends up being put to death for his work, even that will serve to reveal the power of Jesus Christ (1:19-26). This is a win/win opportunity.
Paul challenges the Philippian Christians to participate in this Epiphany ministry: “Only, live your life in a manner worthy of the gospel of Christ …” (1:27-30). Notice the Christ of God is manifested not alone in the ideas and beliefs of which we speak, but much more in the manner in which we live:
“Only live your life in a manner worthy of the gospel of Christ, so that whether I come and see you or am absent and hear about you, I will know that you are standing firm in one spirit, striving side by side with one mind for the faith of the gospel.” (1:27,28).
Fifty-seven years ago, when I was a senior in seminary, I went to a theatre in downtown Dayton, Ohio, to hear Toyohiko Kagawa, one of the greatest Christians of the 20th century. I was assigned to write a review of his talk for the seminary newspaper.
Recently, I found the article I had written and was interested to find I had said he was “not a brilliant speaker, but that the light of the gospel burned so brightly within him that no one could not help but blink at the brilliance of his witness.”
Kagawa did not just talk about the poor and destitute – he lived with them in squalor. He not only opposed Japan’s attack and oppression of China, but publically apologized to China and was arrested for his efforts. He also attempted to prevent his country and the USA from going to war. He told the Japanese farmers how they could halt soil erosion by planting cropping trees.
Despite his incredible Christian self-sacrifice, he never felt he was doing enough to make the gospel visible: “I read in a book that a man called Christ went about doing good. It is very disconcerting to me that I am so easily satisfied with just ‘going about.’”
Lots of people would like to keep the Christ-child in the manger, but that was not God’s plan. He calls us not merely to “observe” the Epiphany season, but to be the Epiphany message where we are and let Christ loose into all of the world.
The views and opinions expressed in this column are those of the author and not necessarily those of Farm World. Those with questions or comments for Rev. Althouse may write to him in care of this publication.