The move from Christmas season to Epiphany season should not be a let down. Christmas is a season of great joy, but Epiphany is as well. And so that's my exhortation to you: Keep the party going. Keep the celebration going. The themes change, but the festivity remains.
Christmas celebrates Christ's birth into the world. Epiphany celebrates the revelation of who he is, as he manifests himself as the God-man who has come to be the Savior of the nations. The events celebrated in Epiphany are chronologically separated but thematically linked. Epiphany especially draws attention to these key episodes in Christ's life:
- The arrival of the magi with gifts (obviously this overlaps with Christmas since it is likely they wise men arrive on the same night Jesus was born; if Jewish shepherds and Gentile magi are already worshipping Jesus on the day of his birth, it is a sign of things to come; the star that led the magi to the place of his birth was likely the same angelic glory cloud that appeared in the sky above the shepherds). Camels are often included in Epiphany art (such as our bulletin cover) along with the star, drawing from Isaiah 60:1-7.
- The baptism of Jesus at age 30, launching his public ministry. The baptism is significant not only because it serves as Jesus' ordination to the office of priest, but because it manifests his identity as the beloved Son of the Father who is anointed with the Spirit.
- The first sign/miracle Jesus performed, turning water into wine at the wedding in Cana of Galilee. This event is important not only because of the power over creation Jesus demonstrated (a power his mother was obviously familiar with and expecting), but also because of the typology of the scene, presenting Jesus as the true bridegroom coming for his bride.
Epiphany has some of the best music of the entire church year. Sure, Christmas and Easter hymns are more familiar, but Epiphany equals these other seasons for joyful and triumphant music. The neglect of Epiphany is in much of the church today is to our loss (e.g., the red Trinity Hymnal used by so many Reformed and Presbyterian churches does not follow the church calendar and so it contains virtually none of the classic Epiphany hymns). The hymn that perhaps best summarizes the different facets of Epiphany is the 5th century hymn "When Christ's Appearing Was Made Known" by Caelis Sedulius:
1. When Christ's appearing was made known,
King Herod trembled for his throne;
But He Who offers heavenly birth
Sought not the kingdom of this earth.
2. The eastern sages saw from far
And followed on His guiding star;
By light their way to Light they trod,
And by their gifts confessed their God.
3. Within the Jordan's sacred flood
The heavenly Lamb in meekness stood,
That He, to Whom no sin was known,
Might cleanse His people from their own.
4. And O what miracle divine,
When water reddened into wine!
He spake the word, and forth it flowed
In streams that nature ne'er bestowed.
5. All glory, Jesus, be to Thee
For this Thy glad epiphany:
Whom with the Father we adore
And Holy Ghost forevermore.
One note of clarification on this otherwise straight-forward hymn: The line the says Christ does not seek the kingdoms of the earth needs to be qualified. Obviously, Jesus did come to seek the kingdoms of the earth (Psalm 2, Rev. 11). He wants to rule the kingdoms and nations of the earth, he wants to redeem and disciple them. But the point of the hymn line is that he does not seek the kingdoms of this earth in a worldly way -- the way that Herod does so.