Have you had an Epiphany lately?
Posted on: Jan 25, 2019
I grew up in the German Reformed heritage of the United Church of Christ. The congregations with which I was acquainted all practiced liturgical worship, with services adhering to a clear sequence of components and mostly using pre-composed sets of words¬¬—all of this common to most Reformed congregations. We still see this style of worship in many UCC congregations of the Reformed heritage.
As a liturgical tradition, the German Reformed Church also followed a calendar that divides the year into a series of seasons. While the more formulaic Reformed liturgy no longer predominates, the UCC almost universally observes this liturgical year.
We observed Advent during December, preparing ourselves for the Christmas celebration. The Twelve Days of Christmas follow (up to January 5th), which in the church we call Christmastide—a term we don’t use very much. I insist on singing Christmas hymns and carols the Sunday after Christmas, even though folks often think doing so is a bit odd since “Christmas is over, after all.”
January 6th is the date we commemorate the visit of the magi to the Christ child. Why? Because this part of the Christmas story points to the birth of the Messiah for all people—that is, not just the Jewish nation but for gentiles (non-Jews) as well.
We call the day of January 6th “Epiphany.” The weeks that follow, up to Ash Wednesday, we call Epiphany season. During this season, gospel readings recount the baptism of Jesus by John the Baptist and Jesus’ first public miracle at Cana, where he turned water into wine. These are the beginnings of Jesus’ ministry. Similarly, we especially emphasize during the Epiphany season how important “new beginnings” are for each of us in our daily lives as well as in our society and culture.
I’ve always liked the word “epiphany.” The third syllable sounds like “fun.” And the p-sound suggests a peppiness of some sort. So one can think of Epiphany as “peppy fun.”
Maya Angelou noted that “the word ‘epiphany’ probably has a million definitions. . . . [For her] it’s the occurrence when the mind, the body, the heart, and the soul focus together and see an old thing in a new way.” Her perception of epiphany resembles the first part of the Great Commandment in Mark 12: “. . . you shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind, and with all your strength [or body].’” The Great Commandment becomes an epiphany for Angelou, especially when she “. . . see[s] an old thing in a new way.”
For Desmond Tutu, the Archbishop Emeritus of the Anglican Church in Cape Town, South Africa, seeing old things in new ways occurs when he remembers his primary, personal epiphany: “God loves us all, no matter what.”
Tutu goes on to say: “This kind of Divine Love is incredible. Having this knowledge and understanding of this love is something that just goes through any walls you might have or perceive. . . . Even the worst of us in our communities is a beloved of God, and that has taught me to remember that there is no one in this world who is a lost cause. There is no one that I can or you can or anyone can declare firmly, ‘You are going to hell.’”
The liturgical observance of Epiphany reminds us, year after year, that God’s love in Christ can burst into our awareness anytime and anyplace. Our task is to be alert to God’s love—to receive it, to share it, and to see it in others. When we live this way, life takes on a joyousness that we could even call “peppy fun.”
— Pastor Fogal