The following is from Sonia Stevenson’s article in this month’s Shepherds Staff:
The Christian feast day of Epiphany traditionally falls on January 6. This year (2013) is one of the rare occasions when that date falls on Sunday, and we won’t have a special weekday service and dinner to mark the day.
The word epiphany means “manifestation” or “revelation” and is commonly linked in Western Christianity with the visit of the wise men (Magi, kings) to the Christ child. Through the Magi, Christ revealed himself to the gentiles. The story of the visit of the wise men is found only in Matthew, just as the story of the shepherds is only in Luke. Yet in our Western tradition we celebrate both events, first singing “Glory to God in the highest” with the angels as they announce to poor lowly peasants the good news of the birth of the Savior in their little town of Bethlehem, and then 12 days later we join the wise men bringing gifts to the Christ child.
Eastern Christianity looks more closely at the lives of the apostles, and celebrates Epiphany as John’s baptism of Jesus in the Jordan River. Christ was thereby revealed to the world as God’s own Son. Unlike the stories of the wise men and the shepherds that are only told in one gospel apiece, all four Gospels speak of Jesus’ baptism by John.
Growing up my personal experience with Epiphany was … not! The adults around me would speak of “Old Christmas Day.” One tradition that I still keep was that all the Christmas decorations must be down and preferably put away until next year no later than noon on Old Christmas Day. My grandmother was Welsh, a highly superstitious lot, and my mother was well indoctrinated. I don’t know what was supposed to happen if we didn’t get everything put away, and we never found out!
But why “Old Christmas Day?” Where did that come from? At the time of Jesus we had a calendar instituted by Julius Caesar and centered round the sun. Although considerably more accurate than the lunar calendar of earlier times, it still wasn’t quite right even after the introduction of leap years. By the sixteenth century the calendar was ten days out. In 1582 reforms instituted by Pope Gregory XIII lopped the eleven minutes fifteen seconds off the length of a year and deleted the spare ten days. This new Gregorian calendar was adopted throughout Catholic Europe. Protestant Europe was not going to be told what day it was by the Pope, so it kept to the old Julian calendar. Almost 170 years later, in 1751 a Calendar Act was passed which stated that in order to bring England into line, the day following September 2, 1752 was to be called September 14, rather than September 3. Unfortunately, many people in the country thought that the government had stolen 11 days of their lives. In some areas there were riots and shouts of ‘give us back our eleven days!’ Before the calendar was reformed, England celebrated Christmas on the equivalent of January 6 by our modern, Gregorian reckoning, and that is why in some places people still call the January 6 “Old Christmas Day.”
As January gets underway, perhaps you’re contemplating a resolution or two. It is natural to yearn for things to be different at the beginning of the New Year. We yearn for families to get along, for financial stability, for healthy bodies, and a more peaceful life and safe world. We set out with high hopes for ourselves and “zero in” on a particular behavior that we would like to incorporate into our daily routines to embody a fresh start. To be honest, making New Year’s resolutions always feel like a set up to me because they rarely get at the deeper longings of the heart. The season of Epiphany with its emphasis upon divine light cascading into our present reality speaks to the notion that change has already come, the glory of the Lord is already upon us, and the fresh start we seek is well underway.
[quote name=”Isaiah 60:1″ center=”true” float=”right” size=”one-third”]
“Arise, shine, for your light has come, and the glory of the Lord has dawned upon you.” [/quote]
The inner logic of Epiphany is that New Year’s resolutions are made in light of the glory that is already in our midst. Therefore, the self-driven energy of New Year’s resolutions can give way to the spiritual flow of life that is dawning all around us. So, in practical terms, what would Epiphany resolutions look like?
Here’s my personal shortlist:
- Whenever possible share positive experiences. See the world through the eyes of love and thereby through God’s eyes.
- Look for what’s possible rather than what’s not. Give positive feedback. Seek and find the light in others and discover how to make that light burn brighter.
- Create opportunities for play and recreation that generate positive emotions and relational goodwill. Stay connected with others who walk the path of love.
These simple resolutions offer a broad focus rather than a narrow application; they are an invitation to be oriented afresh toward the light and presence of Christ that is positive and life-giving. In that light, Christ sees us as we long to see ourselves: restored, renewed, and refreshed for the year-long journey ahead.