Epiphany

The new calendar year begins with a Festival. A celebration of the Naming of Jesus is kept on 1st January (p752 ASB). In the Book of Common Prayer this day was known as "The Circumcision of Christ". The change in the ASB is because the bestowing of the name "Jesus", meaning Saviour, is seen to be of greater significance to the Christian faith than Jesus’ circumcision. The name emphasises the nature of Jesus, the work he is to fulfil and the act that brings into being our faith, whereas his circumcision reveals his Jewish beginnings. It is thought that a festival was allocated to the day as a Christian counter to pagan New Year festivals.

The Epiphany (6th January, sometimes translated to a Sunday), or "The Manifestation of Christ". The significance of this day was to the Western church confined to the visit of the Magi to the Christ-child and its meaning. In other Christian traditions more was made of the day, a day of revelation. As well as the visit of the Magi, the day also focused on the Declaration made at Christ’s baptism, Mark 1:11 "You are my Son, the Beloved; with you I am well pleased", and also the revelation at Cana when Jesus turned the water into wine. John 1:11 "Jesus did this, the first of his signs, in Cana of Galilee, and revealed his glory; and his disciples believed in him."

Epiphanytide then is about Christ’s revelation to and for the world. This is symbolised in several ways. Firstly at the Epiphany in the meeting of the child with the Magi. The kings’ very gifts also enrich the revelation: gold for a king, frankincense the incense of prayer and priestliness, and myrrh the spices for the tomb pointing to Christ’s death and his saving power. Christ is revealed as Saviour and Light of the World. This makes it an appropriate time to have a Christingle service, for the Christingle reveals in its symbolism Christ as Light of the World - the candle in the orange; his saving nature and purpose - the blood-red ribbon; and through symbols of creation, four sticks symbolising the seasons, and sweets their fruits, Christ the New Creation.

The Sundays of the Epiphany season go on to unfold the revelation. The season varies in length because of the shifting date of Easter. This year there are only two Sundays after Epiphany, whereas at most there can be six. The Sunday themes are Revelation - the Baptism of Christ; Revelation - the First Disciples; Revelation - Signs of Glory; Revelation - the New Temple; Revelation - the Wisdom of God; and Revelation - Parables.

The second Sunday of Epiphany can provide an opportunity for the renewal of baptismal vows if this is not part of a church’s Easter practice.

The liturgical colour of the season is white, because like the Christmas and Easter seasons, this too is a season of the glory of Christ.

The true "making manifest" of Christ in our day is the mission of the church, and so during the Epiphany season the Christian churches keep a Week of Prayer for Christian Unity - this year we will mark it with a united "Songs of Praise". The Week of Prayer for Christian Unity is always the last full week in January, and this year appropriately it holds the Feast Day of the Conversion of St Paul (p754 ASB).

Christmas and Epiphanytide are soon over this year and the last Sunday of January is the 9th Sunday before Easter. The 9th to the 6th Sundays before Easter (Sundays before Lent) are devoted to crucial aspects of Christ’s ministry. Christ the Teacher, Christ the Healer, and Christ the Friend of Sinners. The Revelation of the Christ - God made a man - has been clearly retold and explored in the Sundays and Feast Days of Christmas and Epiphany. Hopefully we have in some way felt again that at Christmas Christ was "born in us today", through Epiphany we have been led on by the "star of wonder, star of might", and that we are ready again to enter into the "forty days and forty nights" which will lead us to Calvary and resurrection - to Jesus, which means Saviour.

Helen Walker, December 1996


http://www.stpetersnottingham.org/seasons/epiphany.htm
St Peter's Church, Nottingham
Last revised 5th July 1997