By the time you read this article, we will probably be somewhere between the eight maids a milking and the twelve drummers drumming in the days of Christmas. New Year’s revelry will be over and the credit card hangover begins for those who over-indulged in Christmas spirit. For many churches, this is the season of annual meetings, a pause to get some business of the church done before Lent occurs on February 22. In liturgical time, we will be in the season of Epiphany. This is not a big, pew-filling holy season like Christmas and Easter, but Epiphany deserves its due. The events and symbols of the season include the three Magi, following a star to the Christ-child and the baptism of Jesus. It is a celebration of the manifestation of incarnation, the appearance of God’s Spirit in Jesus.
Epiphany is a Greek word, which was in common use before Jesus’ birth. It meant “appearance” or “manifestation.” Epiphany could refer to the appearance of dawn, or an enemy in war. In religious terms, it refers to a manifestation of the gods to a worshiper, or seeing the power of a god in action. In the first Greek version of the Old Testament, the Septuagint, epiphany was used to refer to a manifestation of the God of Israel. Over time, the word has also developed a secular meaning referring to a sudden intuitive insight.
A classic example would be the story of Isaac Newton sitting under a tree and being simultaneously struck by a falling apple and the idea of gravity. This very much fits the intent of the Greek word, since the Greeks believed that all creativity flowed from divine insight. Music, art, poetry and even mathematical ideas flowed from the appearance of muses who unexpectedly imbibed creative energy upon humans. All creative genius was seen as being touched by God in some way.
I think it is helpful to keep this original sense of the Greek word in our Christian celebrations of Epiphany. As we celebrate the wonders of the Word becoming flesh and dwelling among us, the real point of it all is that we in some way are touched by God’s Spirit. In Epiphany, we see God indwelling in Jesus, so that Christ may dwell in us. The Epiphany (capital E) relates to our experiences of epiphany (little e). As I reflect on the lectionary texts in January for each Sunday, these scriptures reveal the nature of God’s epiphanies in our lives. Through studying the meaning of baptism, the calling of disciples and prophets, and discerning of God’s spirit in the community of the church, we find Epiphany, and God’s manifestation in our lives. Below I have listed the texts and themes for each Sunday, and I invite you to read ahead and ponder the nature of epiphanies for the weeks ahead. Who knows, maybe you too will be suddenly struck by an apple, and discover more of the true nature of God’s creativity in the world!
January 8 – Baptism: The New Creation
Mark 1:4-11 Baptism
Genesis 1:1-5 Creation
Acts 19:1-7 Baptism in Ephesus
January 15: Here I Am: The Nature of Call
John 1:43-51 Calling of disciples.
1 Samuel 3:1-20 The Calling of Samuel
January 22: Fish or Cut Bait: Proclaiming to Others
Mark 1:14-20 Fishers for Humanity
Jonah 3:1-20 The man swallowed by a fish
January 29: Community: Where God’s Spirit is Revealed
Mark 1:21-28 Jesus rebukes unclean spirit
I Corinthians 8:1-13. Discerning in Community