This Sunday we celebrate Epiphany.
The Day of Epiphany is traditionally on January 6, just after the Twelfth Day of Christmas (whether or not you sing all the verses of the traditional song) and often celebrated on the first Sunday of the new year (of the Gregorian Calendar for Westerners).
The word epiphany means “ appearance,” “manifestation,” or “revelation” and is commonly linked by United Methodists and much of Western Christianity with the visit of the wise men (Magi or Three Kings) to the Christ Child (Matthew 2:1-12). Since the Greek-speaking Eastern part of the early church, this “revelation” of the human-Jesus as divine-Christ has been emphasized in Jesus’ baptism by John.
Thirty years ago on Epiphany, my wife and I had just finished our first year in seminary in Denver. Among other things, I had been immersed in heady stuff, studying postmodern theology, philosophy, and perspectives on deconstructionism. In February, when I learned that one of my closest friends died suddenly and unexpectedly, there was a very sudden change in my own personal experience and perspective. I was in a caring community where I could let go in grace and fall into the darkness of grief. In many ways, supported by my wife and friends, I could surrender to my experience of loss. Around that same time, I remember going to a very tedious presentation and conversation about deconstructionism led by a visiting scholar and author of a new book “Epiphanies of Darkness.” The gap between this seemingly cerebral ego exercise on steroids, and the deeply caring and trustworthy community of family and friends holding me in my gut-wrenching personal pain, seemed as wide as the Grand Canyon. By letting go of my ego’s desire to be in control and instead allow myself to fall into the deep soulful-suffering of grief, my heart was broken open to a mystical way of faith.
And I’ve grown to trust and experience God’s Presence as a transforming call to new life in Christ. Now, all these years later, I am convinced that there are “Epiphanies of Darkness” that lead to God’s incarnation and life-giving resurrection, but they have to be experienced through our vulnerability and a deep trust more than read about, analyzed, and argued.
Recently my calling has led me to spend a lot of time with people preparing for and grieving through difficult loss as a hospice chaplain. I am amazed over and again by the wonder and holiness of this difficult ground of love and loss . . .
Blessings on your journey into the new Gregorian and Liturgical Year.
There are six distinct periods of Christian observances. Each focuses upon a different aspect of the Christian experience and tradition. These periods or seasons do not necessarily occur on the same dates from year to year, but are related to the dates of the two principal Christian celebrations of Christmas and Easter.
(1) Advent begins four Sundays before Christmas.
(2) The Christmas Season includes the 12 days from sunset Christmas Eve (December 24) through Epiphany (January 6).
(3) The Season After Epiphany begins January 7 and lasts until Ash Wednesday.
(4) Lent begins on Ash Wednesday and lasts until Easter. The exact dates of Lent depend on the date for Easter Sunday.
(5) Easter is the first Sunday after the first full moon after March 21. Because the date for Easter moves between March 22 and April 25, the length of the Season After Epiphany and the Season After Pentecost varies. The Easter Season is 50 days long and goes through the Day of Pentecost.
(6) The Season After Pentecost begins immediately after Pentecost Sunday and continues until the beginning of Advent. This season is known as Ordinary Time.