What is Epiphany?
Today, January 6th, marks Epiphany on the Christian liturgical calendar. Our Roman Catholic and Orthodox friends are familiar with this day of celebration, but we Reformed Protestants are usually less so. The following is a brief description of the day from Joan Huyser-Honig at the Calvin Institute of Christian Worship:
In Christian tradition, Epiphany marks the miraculous manifestation or shining forth of God in human form, that is, in the person of Jesus. Early Christians in the Eastern Church celebrated the birth and baptism of Jesus on January 6. They called this feast Epiphany. Early Christians in the West celebrated the birth of Jesus on December 25 as Christmas. They added January 6, Epiphany, to the church calendar, thus creating the Twelve Days of Christmas.
Because the Western Epiphany focused on the Magi presenting their gifts to baby Jesus, many cultures celebrate Epiphany as Three Kings Day or El Día de los Tres Reyes. In parts of Italy, Spain, Puerto Rico, and Mexico, people give gifts on Epiphany, not Christmas.
It’s only in the last 20 or 30 years that many Protestants have become aware of liturgical renewal, lectionary readings, the church year, and other ways of living as part of the worldwide, age-old body of Christ. By now, many Protestant churches observe Advent or Lent, but fewer observe Epiphany. Some observe it on a single Sunday, others as a season that lasts till Lent. Lent, the season from Ash Wednesday to Easter Sunday, always lasts 40 weekdays and six Sundays. But because the Easter date varies each year, there can be four to nine Sundays after Epiphany.
So, there you have it! A great description of Epiphany or “Three Kings Day,” as well as the origin of the so-called “Twelve Days of Christmas.”
At Willow Creek, we observe the special preparation seasons of Advent and Lent. However, we don’t yet have a special observance of Epiphany. Even so, I do plan to mention it briefly this Sunday, introducing our family to another wonderful event of the Church calendar.