It’s still Christmas.
Yes, I know. The sparkly decor that looked so welcome in early December looks tired and dreary now that the holiday festivities are done. The gingerbread cookies have been eaten, the wrong-sized gifts have been exchanged. It’s hard to think “Christmas” once we replace last year’s wall calendar with a new model.
But on the liturgical calendar, Christmas lasts for 12 days, beginning December 25th. This brief season spent contemplating the incarnation ends with Epiphany on January 6th. Click here for a quick 5-minute overview of Epiphany. So many people are interested in being more intentional about learning about the Jewish and Christian calendars, but don’t quite know where to start. I’m very happy I can commend a resource that offers a thoughtful historical and devotional overview of each calendar, but also know that many people feel as through attempting to participate will be a pile-on of extra stuff to do (and extra guilt to feel if they can’t do it). As I walk through the calendars this year, I’m highlighting a bit of background, plus a simple recipe or practice to try that captures the reason for the season.
Some may recognize the word epiphany from its common usage referencing a moment when you suddenly experience a great big “ah ha!” of insight or have a powerful spiritual experience of some kind. Those ah-ha’s! point to a powerful moment of revelation given to the Gentile seekers from the East, or Magi, described in Matthew 2:1-12.
…and the star they had seen when it rose went ahead of them until it stopped over the place where the child was. When they saw the star, they were overjoyed. On coming to the house, they saw the child with his mother Mary, and they bowed down and worshiped him. Then they opened their treasures and presented him with gifts of gold, frankincense and myrrh. (Matthew 2:9b-11)
Though our manger scenes place the Magi and the shepherds together at the time of the birth of Jesus, the seekers didn’t appear until quite a bit later. (Click here for a bit of Bible background.) Epiphany reminds us of how Jesus filled full the mission God had given the Jewish people by seeking and saving those who’d been labeled “lost.” He came to find those from within his own Jewish community who recognized their distance from God. And he sought those outside this community, people to whom his own people had failed to reflect God’s light. The Wise Men from the East present us with a powerful image of what it means to be a seeker, and Epiphany demonstrates the wonderful “aha!” of their discovery.
The feast of Epiphany first appeared on the church calendar around the same time as Christmas. As the church split between West and East by the mid-eleventh century, the feast came to carry two different emphases. In the East, the Orthodox family of churches gathered into one day the commemoration of Jesus’ birth, childhood (circumcision, presentation/naming at the temple), baptism by John and the visit by the Magi. Church leaders believed Epiphany, also known as Theophany (“manifestation of God to humanity”), was a fulfillment and celebration of the meaning of Chanukah, the Jewish Feast of Lights. In the West, the day had a single focus—the revelation of the Messiah to the Gentiles. The weeks following January 6 in the Western Christian calendar continue the themes introduced on Epiphany. Congregations trace the revelation of the life of Jesus through his baptism, first public miracle at the wedding at Cana, the call of the disciples to follow him, and his signs and wonders. The season of Epiphany concludes the Sunday before Lent, with the commemoration of Jesus’ transfiguration.
Epiphany calls for a twofold response from each one of us. First, it is an invitation to worship as the Wise Men did. They demonstrated the essence of worship by giving up the comforts of home to follow the star, and brought with them gifts befitting a ruler more powerful than they were. Second, Epiphany is an invitation to join Jesus in his mission. We live Epiphany as we show and tell the world that God is still seeking each one of us. If you’re contemplating what this might look like in your life, perhaps one of these prayers for the season may serve to capture the questions of your heart.
Many food treats for epiphany tend to be sweet cakes or rich breads which include baked inside some non-edible items representing the infant Jesus and/or the gifts of the Magi. (Here’s a recipe from Ree Drummond, the Pioneer Woman, to give you a general idea.) Frankly, when I read these recipes, I can’t help but imagining either a chipped tooth or a need to use the Heimlich maneuver.
One food blogger noted that an exotic recipe signifying the journey of the Magi was in order. I have just the ticket. Though Morocco is actually west of Bethlehem, my recipe (shared on a local grocer’s website last year) for Moroccan Chicken with Lemon and Olives definitely hits the spot on a cold, dark January evening. It’s rich enough for royalty, and I like to think that the wise men would have enjoyed it just as much as you will if you try it.