What You Need To Know About Epiphany

Adoration_of_the_Magi_Tapestry

Yesterday was Epiphany Sunday, a Christian feast day that caps the season of Christmas.

“Epiphany” simply means “appearance” — it’s a time to celebrate the appearance of Christ on earth. In Church history, Christians have observed a day of Epiphany to commemorate the revelation of the Messiah to the Magi. Many churches in the Western world celebrate this day either on January 6 (at the end of the Twelve Days of Christmas) or on the Sunday closest to this date. Some call it “Three Kings Day.”

Wait A Minute — Is Epiphany Is Just One Day, Not A Whole Season Like Lent?

Traditionally, it’s a one-day feast.  But more and more churches are treating Epiphany as a season of the Church Calendar. It’s a time to focus on the revelation of Jesus in the minds and hearts of his disciples as He ministered on earth, and a time to realize the mission of Christ’s Church: to spread the gospel. Observed as a season, Epiphany lasts until Ash Wednesday, when the season of Lent begins.

Why Should Christians Observe Epiphany?

For one thing, this is all the excuse some of you need for not feeling guilty about leaving your Christmas tree up for a couple months after Christmas Day. Same thing with Christmas music — go ahead and crank up your “Silent Night,” “Hosanna In The Highest” and “Hark! The Herald Angels Sing.”

Second, Epiphany helps us focus on important aspects of Jesus’ earthly ministry, such as:

  • the miracles
  • the parables
  • the prophecies
  • the teachings and sermons

It is also a natural bridge between Christmas and Lent.

What Are Some Bible Texts For Daily Devotions During Epiphany?

Here are a few:

  • Psalm 72
  • Isaiah 49:5-7 and Isaiah 60
  • Matthew 2:1-12
  • Luke 13:22-30
  • John 8:12
  • Romans 15:5-13
  • 2 Corinthians 4:4-6
  • Ephesians 3:1-12
  • Titus 2:11-14
  • Revelation 21:22-26

 

Two Sojourn Pastors In Top 10 Books Of 2012 List

I admire Sam Storms the pastor, the author, former dean of Wheaton College and founder of Enjoying God Ministries. And so when Justin Taylor published Storms’ Top 10 Books of 2012 list on The Gospel Coalition blog, I was thrilled and honored that he chose two books by Sojourn pastors for his list.

Coming in at #8 is Journeys of Faith: Evangelicalism, Eastern Orthodoxy, Catholicism, and Anglicanismedited by Robert L. Plummer (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2012), 256 pp.

Rob Plummer is a pastor at Sojourn East. His Journeys Of Faith explores the fascinating question of why someone converts from one religion to another. See an interview with Pastor Rob about Journeys Of Faith here.

Coming in at Storm’s #4 is Sojourners and Strangers: The Doctrine of the Church, by Gregg R. Allison (Wheaton: Crossway, 2012), 494 pp.

Gregg Allison is also a Sojourn East pastor. His Sojourners and Strangers is the book about the Church, the universal family of God, that I’ve been waiting for. It looks at the role of elders, church governance, discipline and even the multi-campus church model. See an interview with Pastor Gregg about Sojourners and Strangers here.

I hope each of you feel as blessed as I do to have Pastors Rob and Gregg in our family — not just our East campus family but all of Sojourn. These men pray for you, for me, for all the pastors and members of Sojourn. I’ve learned from them and grown with them as we seek God’s will together for the Sojourn community. I recommend both these books to you.

Big Enough For Your Sorrow, Strong Enough To Bring Hope

As the great Advent hymn cries:

O come, o come Emmanuel – and ransom captive Israel

This world is filled with suffering and injustice.  As Christians, we acknowledge it and even feel sadness and outrage because of it.  This does not show a lack of faith.  It is, in fact, what the Bible teaches us to do — particularly in the Psalms. God is big enough for our sorrow.

This is one reason we move through the season of Advent at Sojourn. We don’t just skip into the celebration of Christmas; we lament the brokenness of this world and express our longing for Christ’s return, just as Israel lamented their condition 2000 years ago.

But Wait … This Is Ultimately About Hope

In the United States, after each election cycle we invest hope in the coming of a new presidential administration, a new congress, a new state governor — fallible people who may or may not be able to keep us relatively secure for a while (if they can even avoid sending us all over “the fiscal cliff”).  How much more should we place our hope in the coming of the one for whom “every knee will bow and every tongue confess” that He is Lord?

Advent is about anticipation and hope.  It’s about putting our faith in God’s promise to send our deliverer and Prince of Peace. We have something that God’s people didn’t have before the first Christmas morning — hindsight. We have the sure knowledge that Christ has come. He lived the life we couldn’t live, died the death we couldn’t die, rose from the grave, ascended into heaven and sent His Spirit to guide us.

So when we sing “O come, O come Emmanuel,” we sing with a stubborn joy that breaks through all of life’s trials. Because we know that He has come, we can have full assurance that He will come again.

In Defense Of The Christian Year: Nothing Clarifies Like A Calendar

Have you ever talked to a friend or family member about Advent, or Lent, or another season, and heard a response like “Why do you all observe all those seasons at all? Why complicate things?”

The short answer is that the Christian Calendar doesn’t complicate; it clarifies. To know the seasons of the Christian Year is to know the milestones of Christ’s earthly ministry — from the promise of His coming at Advent through His resurrection at Easter and the coming of the Holy Spirit at Pentecost. The Christian Year teaches the gospel, just as the basic liturgy of our worship service teaches us the gospel each week.

Liturgy: “The work of the people.” So, it’s simply the songs we sing, scriptures we read, sermon we engage with and the prayers we pray together each week.

I wrote “Reasons For The Seasons” in the Dec. 2012 issue of Towers Magazine, which you can view online here. This article gives a more in-depth explanation of why we follow the seasons of the Christian year at Sojourn. Here’s a brief excerpt:

It is simply a practice of historic Christianity that continuously stirs reflection, anticipation and action in the hearts of God’s people for the whole, big story of the gospel…

This is why we move through each season of the Christian year, every year. We aren’t unobservant of national holidays or “Hallmark’s calendar,” but we want to redeem and use every tool at our disposal for saturating the days of our lives with God’s Story, the good news of the gospel.

  • How has following the patterns in the Christian Year helped you to understand the gospel more clearly?

 

It’s All Good: How Advent Lets Us Dwell On The WHOLE Story Of Christ’s Coming

We all know it, and most of us have said it: our society has commercialized Christmas and replaced Christ in a manger with Frosty, Rudolph, the Grinch and an ever growing list of products for sale.  The very name “Christmas season” has changed into “holiday season” in many quarters.

So what better way to keep the truth of Christmas in the center of our minds than to intentionally focus on Advent, as untold millions of Christians have done over the centuries? I wrote about this with Bobby Gilles on The Gospel Coalition‘s blog, in an article called “Consider Skipping ‘Christmas Season This Year.” As the article explains, this actually makes our Christmas celebration more joyous, not less.

This is why we journey through Advent as a community each December, giving proper context to songs we sing on Sundays like “Joy To The World” and “Hark! The Herald Angels Sing.”

And Sojourn member Laura Roberts has shared an idea for teaching and celebrating Advent with your small children, from her own childhood:

When I was a child, we had a super detailed, carved wood nativity set (got it from a “mission fair” at my church) that we put up after Thanksgiving. We set the stable up with the manger and a cow, hid baby Jesus, and then Mary and Joseph “traveled” around the living room until Christmas Eve, when they finally arrived in the stable and had baby Jesus. Then on Christmas Day the shepherds showed up (they had been “abiding in the fields, keeping watch over their flocks by night” on the other end of the bookcase). We left the set up until January 6, which is Three Kings’ Day, when we turned the stable into a house and had the wise men visit Toddler Jesus. It was super fun to move the characters every day, and it put the whole story at the front of our minds all Advent long.

How about you? How do you observe Advent as an individual? A family? A community group?

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