Friday, January 6, 2012

A Blessed Epiphany!

There is great sadness in my heart every Epiphany.  It, like Ascension, has become a largely forgotten day on our calendar.  Sometimes we move Epiphany to a Sunday and even when that works, Epiphany is like an add on to the service rather than the important holy day it is.  Other times we schedule mid-week services upon the actual date -- only to see a hand full of folks show up.  Now, I do not mean to disparage those who come, but it is hardly fitting for this day that the world passes it by -- joined by those in the Church also.

As I drive by the growing pile of Christmas trees dropped off at the local state recreational area, it is clear that Christmas has come and gone.  It started already on Christmas Day when the first tree hit the asphalt spot -- destined to become mulch on the trails at Dunbar Cave.  We are so done with it all that are ready to give it all up -- the hymns and carols and sentiment of Christmas as well as the trees and decorations.  We have already used and broken some of our gifts, cashed in some of the gift cards, and returned the unpleasant things we were surely given by mistake.  We don't want twelve days of Christmas and an big bang from Epiphany.  Even as Christians we are ready to get on with it.  One year a preschool mom asked me why we had forgotten to take down the Christmas wreathes on our door -- it was January 2 and time to move on.  So it is not hard to figure out why Epiphany has gotten lost in all of this.

Epiphany was once bigger than Christmas and still is in Orthodoxy.  It is not just about the Wise Men/three kings from Orient are.  It is not just about gifts to the Christ child.  It is not just about Gentiles welcomed to the Infant King of the Jews.  It is not just about Light -- in the midst of darkness, that shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it.  It is not just about the end of the twelve days of Christmas.  It is and much more.  It is about revelation, the step by step revelation of Jesus as the Son of God in human flesh and blood -- from the visit of the Magi to the baptism in the Jordan to the miracles large and small, to the disciples called, to the preaching that the Kingdom of God is come in Christ, and MORE!

The prolific commentator and commenter Past Elder (aka Terry Maher) wrote exhaustively on Epiphany.  You can read it all here and I will not bother to rewrite what he put up last year. Suffice it to say that it is a shame we have let the wind blow out our candle and leave us in darkness in this day of light.  We can do better.  We have tried both moving it to a Sunday and a mid-week observance when it falls (at different times and at the same time) and we will labor on valiantly trying to recapture what has been lost.  It is an uphill battle and I pray you better success than I have had.


Anonymous said...

We are thankfully having a service at my church tonight but it is also an ordination for a man entering the Office of Holy Ministry. I fear that without the ordination we would not be having this special service (I don't remember doing one last year). The good news is everyone will celebrate Epiphany next year (it falls on a Sunday!!!).
-Peter Sovitzky

John said...

My wife and I started a custom of lighting our Christmas tree each day from when we put it up during Advent through the observance of Jesus' circumcision. We then leave the tree dark until Epiphany, when we light it from when we awake until midnight.

Maybe part of the problem in getting folks into church on Epiphany and Ascension is that there are no corresponding celebrations in society.

Another problem in getting folks interested in Epiphany may be that all congregations that I've attended have portrayed the arrival of the Magi in their children's Christmas programs. Why get enthusiastic about something that we have already celebrated?

Be certain that your members are furnished with the Introit, Gradual, Collect and the readings for the day for use in their personal/family devotions in observance of Epiphany and Ascension.

I, as a layman would like to see congregations adopting the observance of Epiphany and Ascension on the Sunday preceding. Such observance would place both of these most important events for Christians in their proper places.

Terry Maher said...

Thank you for your kind link, Pastor.

This year's version is currently the lead post on Past Elder.

My blog functions a little differently than this one -- no meanderings, but an annual cycle of posts that I revise a little each year as indicated. The meanderings happen on my Pacebook.

As to the convenience of its observance, that seems to me to be a contemporary phenomenon. Growing up preconciliar RC, Epiphany, holy days of obligation were just that, and while you might grumble a bit about dinner being a little later or earlier than usual, you made such adjustments as were necessary to go and I don't remember anyone thinking Geez let's have this on Sunday so its more convenient.

Note -- Epiphany was not a day of obligation in the US, but was in other places. Ascension Thursday was though. Rome allows national variation on this, as long as it approves the variation of course. Before my time the number of obligation days was much greater, 36 to be exact, and Rome's solution to this as the modern era dawned was simply to reduce the list. There are 6 in the US now.

Epiphany is not on the US list.

Hell, good thing convenience wasn't the big thing to the Magi or they wouldn't have come to the first one!

Judy said...

I 'm thankful my father was raised Russian Orthodox. Even though he join LCMS, we still carried on the russian traditions. Including Epiphany. I don't think i would have as much respect for this holiday without that connection. It was like having two Christmases.

Anonymous said...

Evening Prayer in our church tonight, 7:00 with hymn sing preceding. We get to sing all the great Christmas carols on the 12th day. Rejoice this Epiphany and don't be sad.

Anonymous said...

Hey, it is a holiday in Bavaria.

First time I was there after Christmas, I saw the markings above the door and kept asking what they were for.

One guy (a young guy, 20 something) got really annoyed that I didn't know what it was. My German was pretty good, so he might not have caught on that I was a tourist. He acted like he thought I was a real idiot for not knowing.

Anonymous said...

In the West there is some confusion about the Orthodox celebration of Epiphany. Until the Orthodox Church in America adopted the revised Julian Calendar in the latter part of the 20th century, almost all Orthodox churches followed the traditional Julian Calendar. In that revised calendar the days coincide with the Gregorian Calendar until 2800 (I am not sure what happens after that, so I will take a wait and see attitude). But people who did not know that, assumed that the Orthodox Christmas celebration, which falls on 7 January of the calendar we observe (6 January in the 19th century), is actually their Epiphany celebration, taking the place of Christmas But those who grew up in Orthodox families did have the joy of actually celebrating Christmas twice – not Christmas and Epiphany. Orthodox Epiphany, usually sans Wise Men, falls on 19 January according to our calendar. It is usually marked by pictures in the paper showing someone retrieving a cross from icy water, except in Southern California.

Peace and Joy!
George A. Marquart

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