The Christian holiday, the day of Epiphany is Saturday. Theologians and area churches are anticipating the day of Epiphany, and its season that follows, as important aspects of the new church year.
Locally, Epiphany will be observed with a ceremony and dinner at 6:30 p.m. Saturday at St. Stephen’s Episcopal Church, in Sherman.
“Father Evans will begin with a candlelight ceremony that will precede the dinner,” parish secretary Helen Summers said. “Then, in keeping with old English tradition, there will be a blessing of water and pieces of chalk. Both may be applied to one’s home in ways to invite our Lord’s blessing throughout the year. After the opening ceremony, we will celebrate God’s revelation of Christ to the world with a lovely dinner, fellowship and thanksgiving.”
The word epiphany means either the unveiling or the revealing of something.
“We sometimes hear the word used when somebody has an experience of discovering something new or has revealed to them something they never noticed before,” William B. Lawrence, professor of American Church History at the Perkins School of Theology at Southern Methodist University, said. “That is really what is behind the word itself.”
With that understanding in mind, Lawrence describes the importance of the Epiphany in the Christian story and its impact on faith and practice.
“The day of Epiphany in the Christian year has come to be associated with multiple things,” he said. “One is the account of the arrival of the three wise men, or the Magi. While many think of the visit by the Magi as part of the Christmas story, in fact it is described in the Gospel of Matthew as taking place some days after the birth of Jesus, with those visitors from the East, possibly Iran in today’s world, being very exotic. They were not Jews, and they were not part of the community or ethnic group into which Jesus was born.”
Lawrence asserts that contact with the Christ child by the Magi creates an epiphany for the outside world. Thus revealed, God’s introduction of a savior into the world cannot be mistaken as a local event, and his arrival is for all to know.
“Traditionally Epiphany has been celebrated on Jan. 6, whatever day of the week that happened to be,” Bruce D. Marshall, Lehman Professor of Christian Doctrine, also of the Perkins School of Theology at Southern Methodist University, said. “It thus concludes the 12 days of Christmas, and indeed is their climax or culmination: the Christ born for us on Christmas is now made known to us as our savior, and we are invited to join the Magi in worshipping him.”
In addition to Epiphany being celebrated on Jan. 6, Lawrence observed that the day is followed by a season bearing the same name.
“It is also a season in the church year that stretches from the day of epiphany to the opening of Lent,” he said. “It has often been associated with the work of the church and its mission to the world. So, in that sense, it is also the revealing of that mission, which is really the focus of the Epiphany season.
Noting that the church has observed Epiphany since after the fourth century, Lawrence spoke of its importance.
“I would say the observance of Epiphany is important for at least two reasons,” he said. “One is the global nature of Christianity and its essential connection to the story of Epiphany. This visit of the wise men is tremendously significant. These characters who are part magician, part soothsayer, part astronomer, and part astrologer, come from a completely different ethnic group and geographical constituency. They are essential to the Christmas story and to the coming of Christ. So, the global nature of Christian witness is intimately linked with the story of Epiphany.”
“Second, for many Christians the sense of being in mission to the world is perceived to be important,” Lawrence said. “That is another essential element in the Epiphany season. So, any Christian who wants to think of Jesus as the savior of the world must also embrace the multiethnic, multinational, multiracial, global character of the earliest witness to the coming of Christ.
“A second Biblical story associated with Epiphany is the baptism of Jesus. There is no reference to the infant Jesus in the Gospel of Mark. His gospel begins with Jesus as an adult who appears on the scene near the river Jordan where John is performing baptisms. Jesus is baptized, with a voice from heaven that follows, declaring him to be God’s beloved son.”
Members of Grand Avenue Presbyterian Church in Sherman and First Presbyterian Church in Denison will be renewing their baptismal vows during morning worship services at the churches.
“In many worship traditions the season of Epiphany is associated with reading gospel accounts of the visit of the Magi and the baptism of our Lord,” Lawrence said. “For some, a special lighting of candles may be used to signify the revelation of Christ’s coming as the light of the world.”