January 6th is the festival of the Epiphany. In our liturgical calendar, the next few Sundays are called “Sundays after Epiphany,” to observe this celebration. While Christmas is a familiar holiday, however, not many recognize what Epiphany means.
The word “epiphany” comes from Greek, and means “manifestation.” In this holiday, it is recognized how God manifested himself, or made himself present and visible to the world, in the person of Jesus Christ. We can define the difference between Christmas and Epiphany by saying that Christmas celebrates Jesus as True Man, while Epiphany celebrates him as Very God.
In some parts of Christendom (specifically the Eastern Churches) Epiphany is regarded as the actual celebration of Christmas. There are several reasons for this, but perhaps the most compelling is that while Christmas celebrates Christ’s birth, Epiphany celebrates his revelation to the world and the beginning of his ministry and work. Christmas is his birthday, while Epiphany is his coronation. Epiphany, in fact, is closer in relevance to the average human population than Christmas is – Mary, Joseph, and the shepherds are really the only ones directly affected by Christmas. Epiphany meant that God had come to fulfill his promised work of salvation.
There are several little epiphanies celebrated during this season. Historically, the first “epiphany” is the coming of the Magi or the wise men to worship Jesus. They were the first from the broader world to see this God-Man, and actually to bow down before him, recognizing his glory and power. Other epiphanies include when Jesus was presented at the temple and Simeon sang his famous song of thanks to God for sending salvation, when Jesus was baptized and the Holy Spirit descended on him like a dove and the Father declared him publicly his Son and endorsed his mission, when Jesus performed his first miracle and demonstrated his divine power to the wedding guests at Cana, and when Jesus was transfigured on the mountain before his disciples so that they could see his divine glory.
All of these epiphanies and more are designed to bring proof to the world that Jesus is God made Man, that he is the promised Messiah and the Christ, and that he is the Savior of the world. After seeing what this season and this holiday is about, can you fail to recognize its blessed significance?
At Redeemer this season, we celebrate on January 11th the Baptism of Jesus, on January 18th and 25th the calling of disciples by God, on February 1st and 8th the miracles of Jesus, and on February 15th the Transfiguration.