Epiphany: What it Means and Why it Matters
Ancient to Modern
Recently, I’ve been watching videos about AI-reconstruction of historical figures. The process takes ancient paintings and sculptures and builds a life-like rendition of what that person might have looked like. It’s not exact. But I can’t resist the urge to watch these videos. For me, they restore some humanity to someone I’ve only read about in history books or seen in static paintings and sculptures. The videos breathe life into a historical figure, making that person as real as ever.
From Old to New
What if we tried to do something similar to the historical church calendar?
Historically, many Christian churches have celebrated the same dates each year. Over time, these dates came to make up what’s known as the Church Calendar or Liturgical Calendar.
The purpose of the liturgical calendar is to help Christians remember what God has done through biblical history and to allow these events to influence and guide worship. Many churches still use a liturgical calendar in some form. The calendar starts with Advent and then is filled with Christmas, Epiphany, Lent, Easter, Ascension, Pentecost, and many more Sundays that fill in and follow throughout the year.
It’s clear that the calendar is full of significant dates that give meaning to the Bible’s story and help us remember and give God glory for how he has worked in history. For some of us, however, it’s not clear what these different dates memorialize.
What is Epiphany?
Epiphany is on January 6th, which is twelve days after Christmas. This is the amount of time that spans the birth of Jesus, and according to tradition when the magi visited Mary, Joseph, and their child. Epiphany doesn’t always fall on a Sunday, so the Church celebrates it on the nearest Sunday (January 7, 2024), called “Epiphany Sunday”.
The Greek word epiphany simply means “to reveal” or “to make manifest.” It was the name given by early Christians to celebrate the birth of Jesus, the revelation of God’s love to the world (John 3:16). An annual festival would follow to celebrate and recognize that Jesus, the Son of God, reveals God’s plan to save the world.
Why does Epiphany matter?
It’s highly likely this is the first time you are either hearing about Epiphany or thinking about how it might impact your worship of God. That’s okay. It was only six years ago that this date meant something to me.
The church I pastored in Michigan asked me to preach on Epiphany Sunday. I had to confess to them that I wasn’t sure what to preach. What I learned was that our church, along with many other churches around the world celebrate Epiphany Sunday annually with a unique service or remembrance.
January 6th is a day we should remember for the inextinguishable light of the gospel. It’s a reminder to us that God is at work, revealing himself even today. Churches often use Epiphany Sunday as an opportunity to teach about global mission movements, local outreach initiatives, and evangelistic endeavors. But Epiphany also matters for individual believers today.
How is Epiphany relevant for you today?
Epiphany is the day that God stepped into the world and announced that he was going to make all sad things untrue. God hadn’t abandoned his people. He isn’t silent or distant.
Instead, God has announced to the whole world that King Jesus is intimately interested in you. It’s another reminder of the gospel, one that shouts about our King and his unending love for humanity and this world. In other words, the Epiphany leads to other epiphanies, or revelations, where you continue to realize how much God loves you.
And boy, does this historical date fall at a great time. We come out of the Christmas season and sit in the reality that God revealed his love to the whole world. The timing allows us to start our new year focused on Jesus. And this infuses our New Year's resolutions, work endeavors, relationships, family, and neighbors with life. Leading to even more little epiphanies!
God is with us. He is revealed to us. And that should bring us great joy.
“When they saw the star, they rejoiced exceedingly with great joy. And going into the house, they saw the child with Mary his mother, and they fell down and worshiped him.” Matthew 2:10-11
This Epiphany Sunday
This year, celebrate Epiphany with your brothers and sisters in Christ around the world. You don’t have to go to a special service or dedicate the whole day. Just try one (or more) of these three practices.
Wake up early or stay up late and look up at the stars. Remember that God revealed to the magi what he wants to reveal to you today—the King of Kings has been born. Worship God. Connect through the beauty of creation to the intentionality of your Good Father. Say a quick prayer recognizing the splendor of our King.
2. Honor God’s Mission
God is at work all over the world. Jesus is being revealed to people who haven’t considered God as the benevolent ruler before. Take a moment to learn about what God is doing somewhere across the world.
3. Share Your Epiphany
Celebrate the end of the Christmas season by remembering what God has done in your life. Share with a friend, family member, neighbor, or co-worker how God has revealed himself to you in the previous year. It can be a specific instance or a short story of God’s faithfulness to you. The point is to marvel with others at God’s work through the revelation of his son Jesus.
Unsure how God has been at work in your life? Use these simple prompts to prepare for Epiphany by reflecting on your relationship with Jesus.