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An Epiphany Theophany

Epiphany for those of us in the church is that feast day on January 6. It is the day Protestants and Catholics celebrate the manifestation of Christ to the Gentiles in the visit of the Magi. The Orthodox church celebrates it as the birthday of Jesus, the coming of God in human form.

Another definition of epiphany is a sudden, intuitive perception of or insight into the reality or essential meaning of something, usually initiated by some simple or commonplace occurrence or experience. John Wesley experienced such an epiphany during his heart-warming salvation experience: "About a quarter before nine, while he was describing the change which God works in the heart through faith in Christ, I felt my heart strangely warmed. I felt I did trust in Christ, Christ alone, for salvation; and an assurance was given me that He had taken away my sins, even mine, and saved me from the law of sin and death."

Yet another definition of epiphany is similar to the word theophany: a revelation or manifestation of the divine, or the actual appearance of a god to a human, or a divine disclosure. Theophany was pretty common in Greek and Roman mythology, much rarer in the Old Testament. Some examples include:

  • Moses and the burning bush (Exodus 3).
  • Moses on Mt. Sinai (Exodus 19).
  • The commissioning of Ezekiel (Ezekiel 10) and Isaiah (Isaiah 6).

Remember the TV show Touched by an Angel? Each episode climaxed with the revealing or epiphany scene, in which Monica (Roma Downey) or Tess (Della Reese), both angels, would reveal their nature as heavenly angels sent to help some troubled or suffering earthly human.

Thus, the themes of Epiphany continue some of the Christmas themes: the nativity, incarnation, and baptism of Christ. Others include those around the Magi: gift giving; human search for and recognition of the divine in our midst; God's self-revealing and manifestation among us; evangelism; and missions.

There is no Epiphany season -- we have Epiphany Day, January 6, and we often observe it in worship on Epiphany Sunday, the Sunday before Epiphany Day. The Sundays After Epiphany are Sundays of Ordinary Time; that is, Sundays that are in between the Advent-Christmas-Epiphany and Lent-Easter-Pentecost cycles. These Ordinary Time Sundays after Epiphany number between four and nine, depending on the date of Easter. There are five Sundays of Ordinary Time in 2010.

Although the lectionary themes do not remain in Epiphany during these Ordinary Time Sundays, it would be a worthy goal -- both personal and congregational -- to continually experience, daily and weekly, the revelation and manifestation of God in our lives. As musicians and worship leaders, we should always seek to encourage that presence of God in our worship and living. An Epiphany Theophany every time we gather is a worthy goal. Every Sunday we should pray the prayer that occurs only once in the New Testament: "Maranatha! O Lord, come!" (1 Corinthians 16:22).

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