This stand-alone service is an opportunity for the church to celebrate the Light that shines in the darkness. The chief symbols are the kings or magi of Matthew’s Gospel account and the star that they followed to worship the one born as Savior of the world. It is good to dwell on this amazing gift and to wrap up the Christmas season on this twelfth night. Maybe the church could serve some king cake in honor of the travelers from afar.
The word Epiphany comes to us from the Greco-Roman context. Originally, the word functioned as a designation for the public appearance (or the epiphaneia) of state officials in provinces. The literal meaning is to manifest, show forth, or clarify. Based on this definition, the first-century church embraced the term as a designation for the manifestation, the brilliant appearance of Christ, in the flesh for the world. This helps us understand why the Season of Epiphany follows the Season of Advent. The Messiah has come, and we now find ourselves in the season of illumination. I like to think of it as a divine dispensation of supernatural sightings.
The canonical gospels describe an unusual sighting of a resplendent star in the eastern skies that served as a guiding light for a distinguished group of foreigners seeking to locate the long-waited messianic presence, the king of the Jews!
Herod, threatened by the news of this new so-called king, assumed that the distinguished men from the east possessed magical powers, and secured their services to seek out the child. Meanwhile, Herod was determined to destroy the child. Matthew 2 refers to these visitors as magi (from the word magic). It is thought that this title was given to Zoroastrian or Persian priests. (During this period in history, astrology, science, and religion were collaborative studies.)
Other gospel writers named them as wise men (men of great learning); still others labeled them as kings. Costly gifts were laid at the feet of the Messiah by these immigrants: frankincense from Sheba, gold from Arabia, and myrrh from Tarse and Egypt.
In the Latino/a context, Epiphany is known as Dia de los Reyes (Three Kings' Day). In Mexico, crowds gather to taste the Rosca de Reyes – Kings' bread. Much like the King Cake experience in New Orleans during the season of Mardi Gras, a Baby Jesus figurine is hidden in the bread.
During the month of January, the primary goal is for people of faith to connect with the new things, fresh new beginnings, new opportunities provided by God for the people of God, who, in turn, embody the earthly presence of Christ, light of justice, reconciliation, peace, and liberation.
Primary Symbols of Epiphany:
Altar Light: star-shaped crystals; kerosene lamp; candles; menorah holding red/black/green candles – colors of liberation that point toward the birthday celebration of Dr Martin Luther King.
Processional: Three beautifully wrapped gifts denoting the gifts of the magi might be processed into the worship space and placed on the altar. Be intentional to create an ethos of diversity, much like the magi (multigenerational, male/female, multicultural, etc.).
Water: The Sunday after Epiphany is the Baptism of Our Lord, a time of reaffirmation of baptism (John 1: 29-42). The altar table might be covered with various shapes, sizes, and colors of bowls, pitchers, and shells filled with water. Tree branches may be added for a ritual of sprinkling during the Service of Remembrance.
PRAYER OF CONFESSION and PARDON
Merciful God, as we come to you at midday, we have gathered ourselves for the days of work ahead.
But we know that in the true light of day, you can see what we’ve hidden and covered up.
We confess that we have denied water to those in need; we have polluted streams and lakes; we have played it safe, staying clear of the forbidden places that we pass on our way to somewhere more important to us, forgetting that we carry your Spirit, your Spark, your New Life within us, and that you are found when we veer off the track.
Have mercy on us, O God, for we are sorry for all we have done in forgetting that we belong to you.
Help us to live in the Spirit’s power and in the light of your love. through Jesus Christ. Amen!
Prayer of Confession and Pardon © 2011 Susan Colton (Garrett-Evangelical Theological Seminary, Master of Divinity Student)
Adapted by Cynthia A. Wilson. Permission granted for one-time use, for worship and educational purposes.