The liturgical colour for the Epiphany season is white, and that’s why the white pulpit falls were in place over Christmas and still are for today. They are, of course, also used at the sacraments of Baptism, Communion and marriage, as well as at funerals.
Many Christians around the world celebrate Epiphany on January 6. It is a public holiday in many countries and marks two events in Jesus’ life.
The first event was when the three wise men, or kings, visited infant Jesus, The second event was when John the Baptist baptised Jesus, celebrated in mainly Eastern Orthodox churches.
What do people do?
January 6 is 12 days after Christmas in our calendar, and marks the end of the Christmas holidays. In some European countries, such as the Czech Republic and Slovakia, it is the tradition for children to dress as the three kings and visit houses. In their roles as the king, or wise men, they sing about the Jesus’ birth and pay homage to the “king of kings”. They are rewarded with praise and biscuits or sweets.
In many Latin American countries, it’s the three wise men and not Santa Claus who bring gifts for children. Children write letters to the wise men telling them good they were and what gifts they want (Santa’s robin?).
Traditionally, children in Spain fill their shoes with straw or grain for the three kings’ horses to eat, and place them on balconies or by the front door on Epiphany Eve. The next day they find sweets or gifts in their place. The ‘three kings’ make an entry in many cities in Spain on
Epiphany Eve, accompanied by military bands and drummers in medieval dress.
Epiphany is commonly known as Twelfth Night, Three Kings Day, or the Feast of Epiphany. It means ‘manifestation’ or ‘showing forth’. Epiphany refers not only to the day itself but to the church season that follows it – a season that has a varied length because it ends when Lent begins and this depends on the date of Easter.
Epiphany is one of the oldest Christian feasts. It has been celebrated since the end of the second century, before the Christmas holiday was established. Like other Christian seasons the church appropriated Epiphany from an old pagan festival.
Various paintings, artworks and sketches show the three wise men and Jesus. Some paintings and artworks show the three wise men on the way to Bethlehem, or adoring baby Jesus.
The kings are important because their visit illustrates that Jesus was the king of all kings who came for the Gentiles as well as for the Jews.
The star that guides the wise men to Christ also symbolises Epiphany, as well as the three gifts they gave to Jesus, ie
Gold (fit for a king)
Frankincense (used to worship at a temple)
Myrrh (used for embalming as well as a salve for irritations and rashes)
The letter to the church at Ephesus is one of those books where there is some debate as to whether it was written by Paul or by someone writing in his name. The focus however is ultimately the good news that the Gentiles were also to be included in the community of faith. This news was significant enough to be spoken of as coming from the very heart and being of God, not easy to accept for Jewish Christians who still maintain strong links to the Synagogues. Simply put it says that God’s love crosses every barrier of discrimination and the Gentiles, once excluded, are to be celebrated and included. This was truly a moment of enlightenment for the letter-writer and his readers.
Looking at the Gospels and surveying those whom Jesus included in his ministry, it was the marginalised, the rich, and the poor; think of the tax-collector, the Roman centurion and the beggar. This presents a great challenge to the church of today, as can been seen by the struggle and much soul searching in the Church of England after the narrow rejection of female Bishops. We shouldn’t feel smug or detached about this; there are areas of controversy within the Church of Scotland. If it took a huge effort from the writer to the Ephesians to celebrate this inclusive truth, it will equally take an effort for us to celebrate God’s inclusion of all, in this day and age.
We must ask ourselves: Does God still challenge our prejudice today and is new light too bright that we want to extinguish it or to hide it?
The Church is not there to play chaplain to the established order, but to embody the God who breaks down barriers and challenges vested interests which give advantage to some against others, or builds on forms of elitism and supremacy at the expense of others. The author refers to ‘servants’, but clearly means, by that, human beings empowered by love to act with strength and to advocate for love at the boundaries and the barriers.
In Matthew’s Gospel, these mysterious figures from the east reflect the aspirations of Israel that one day the wise and the powerful would come to acknowledge God. It is also a variation on the theme of the Gentiles sharing in the blessings of Israel. These magi represent all of us who are non-Jews. It is the sentiment of hope expressed by the prophets.
The message of the story can hardly be missed: the best of the world’s wisdom acknowledges the Christ in some form. This connects also to those passages from the prophets who speak of the nations’ coming together in peace, to beat their swords into ploughshares and their spears into pruning hooks and to share in a great feast and to learn the law of God.
A statement is being made about Jesus’ ministry and the church: the gospel is to be taught to all nations. This is a celebration of inclusiveness. In this day and age, we should give consideration to those we might exclude and whether God is saying something to us and to our church.
Epiphany comes at the start of the Christian year, and on this occasion at the start of a new phase in the life of this congregation. It’s a time for us to reflect on where we are and where we are going, and on the Gospel command to be inclusive.
It’s been said that in previous vacancies we have been well able to carry on with our church life, and to cope without a minister in the short term. We are being challenged to do the same again, and not to lose heart. Amen