The Lutheran Witness, under the new editorship of my former student Adriane Dorr, has gotten to be a really good magazine. If you are one of the many former subscribers who stopped taking it, renew your subscription. Anyway, a recent issue has an article on Epiphany that was quite an epiphany for me. We had discussed the origins of Christmas. Epiphany, it turns out, was celebrated long before Christmas in the church. Actually, the birth of Christ was one of the “epiphanies,” or revelations of the Son of God, that the season celebrated. From the article by Terence Maher:
Epiphany is a much older feast than Christmas, but it’s largely forgotten by most, lost in the shuffle by many, and celebrated by a few. Now how did that happen?
By the late fourth century, Epiphany was celebrated on Jan. 6. The earliest known reference dates from 361, and in those days the references indicate not just the appearance of the kings—epiphany is an English form of a Greek word meaning “appearance” or “manifestation”—but also the appearance or manifestation, the epiphany, of God, including His birth.
It’s not that there wasn’t Christmas. This is Christmas as well as a celebration of all the other events in the life of the young Jesus up to and including His Baptism and first public miracle at the wedding in Cana. In short, it’s a big day!
The article also says how Vatican II changed Epiphany into a moveable feast–one of those floating holidays–so that in the Church of Rome, there are no longer necessarily 12 days of Christmas! (Would that Roman Catholics would be more catholic in their practices!) And other interesting and illuminating facts.