- manifestation or appearance
- a moment of sudden revelation or insight.
My family will celebrate anything. No, really, anything. All the major holidays, of course, but also the first/last day of school, the longest/shortest day of the year, the hottest day of summer, the fact that it’s a Wednesday. We love to pull out the joyful in the midst of the ordinary, so we find every excuse we can to get a box of donuts and have people over!
In the midst of the mundane we also celebrate the extraordinary and one of my favorite celebrations is Epiphany, 12 days after Christmas, when we remember that the Wise-men followed a star to find Jesus, deliver priceless gifts to him, and become the first gentiles to proclaim him King (Matt 2:1-18).
Our Favorite Celebration
Our home is entirely redecorated for Epiphany: the Christmas tree comes down and the Epiphany Star goes up! Twinkly lights are hung and nativity scenes from around the world can be found throughout the house. On Epiphany day we open the last of the presents and then prepare a BIG party for our friends and neighbors: we hide wise-men figures for the kids to find and bring to the manger for a gift, we eat King Cake (and donuts) and make lanterns and stars, we sing carols, we tell the story of the wise men arriving at the home of Mary, Joseph, and Jesus, and we end by chalking the lintel (frame) of our front door with the equation 20 + C + M + B + (year) while asking everyone to participate in a liturgy of blessing. We throw a lot of parties in the course of the year but this one is the highlight!
What makes it my favorite is that it’s a little quirky.
The Quirky Reason
Every year we have guests who have no idea what is happening at any given moment. Why are people so happy that guy found a tiny baby Jesus figurine in his cake – isn’t that a choking hazard? What is with all the stars? Who were the Magi? And what is a lintel?!
Though this party may feel a little odd at first, there are 3 opportunities we experience at Epiphany to engage people in the biblical narrative in fun and unique ways. Perhaps you will want to celebrate Epiphany, or maybe there is another holiday calling out to you and this may provide a framework for how you can use that time with intentionality.
- This celebration provokes questions:
The story of Epiphany is the story of three wise-men, or magi, seeking after God by attending to his created order – looking to the stars to find the newborn King. It is the story of the first Gentiles to bow before Jesus as Lord. It is the story of people terrorized and displaced by a hostile government.
As people engage the story, they ask questions like “did the Wise-men use astrology to find Jesus? Isn’t that bad?” “Why would these “wise-men” leave such priceless gifts with this poor family and was Jesus still in a manger?!” “Why would God allow King Herod to order the murdered countless babies?”
Some questions are harder than others and I don’t always have the answers, but I’m grateful for the conversation. And in the end, Epiphany is the story of a light shining in the darkness and of an all-encompassing sense of hope that darkness can never overcome. People’s questions, even the unanswerable ones, give us an opportunity to talk about this hope.People’s questions, even the unanswerable ones, give us an opportunity to talk about hope - Taeler Morgan Click To Tweet
What kind of questions does your celebration invite?
- It gives us a chance to tell the Jesus-story one more time.
I don’t know about your local Costco, but mine starts schlepping Christmas fare in early September. I’m no Grinch (I love Christmas so much I’ve committed to extending it by 12 days), but I was feeling Christmas-fatigue. Part of why we began exploring Epiphany was that it gave us 12 commercialism-free days to live into the Jesus-story. And what we found was that everyone had heard exactly what they were expecting to hear leading up to Christmas Day: a story that is beautiful but familiar.
Epiphany gave us the chance to tell the Jesus-story one more time in a way that was a little less familiar. At Christmas we hear a lot about Mary and Joseph’s journey. At Epiphany we hear about people who couldn’t be further from Mary and Joseph, yet they too are co-opted into God’s story.
At Christmas we talk about Jewish customs and beliefs. At Epiphany we highlight the customs of these Gentile Magi.
At Christmas we talk about our Savior who is born to us, Emmanuel – God with us. At Epiphany we talk about people who traveled day and night to get to our Savior and were able to do so because God was with them.
As we tell this story we’re engaging a part of the biblical narrative that is often passed over yet is compelling for people who maybe only go to church on Christmas and Easter. The Epiphany story gives them a new lens to see God’s story through.
How can you use your celebration to tell the Jesus-story with a new lens?
- It invites people to consider their response to Jesus.
The magi journeyed from far away, leaving behind their whole lives in order to seek, to find, and to follow God. They were distant from Jesus in every way: culturally, ethnically, geographically, yet they desired to be with him. They brought gifts of great value with them, Gold, Frankincense, and Myrrh – gifts traditionally given to Kings. And when they encountered the unexpected – an evil monarch, a small child, a poor carpenter’s family, a young woman people probably still whispered about – these wise-men disrupted the powerful status quo by refusing to obey the orders of a King.
They risked their own lives to provide time and space for Mary, Joseph, and Jesus to migrate to safety. They used their own resources to disrupt evil systems as best they could. From the moment we are introduced to these three wise-men we see them constantly responding to God: following a star, bringing gifts, discerning Herod’s lie and actively subverting this evil ruler’s will.
As we invite people into the journey of the wise-men, we invite them to consider their own response to Jesus. How far are they from God? Have they ever experienced God’s guidance first hand? What part of the brokenness of our world causes them grief or pain? What might it mean for Jesus to be born into that grief or pain? How might they be called to respond with enduring hope?
How might your celebration empower people to join in God’s redemptive plan?
There are many creative ways to engage these 3 opportunities. Whether it’s Epiphany, a celebration you are making up, or just a Wednesday, as we look toward the new year what kind of celebration can you imagine that would provoke questions, make space for the story of Jesus to be heard in a new way, and offer an opportunity for people to respond by joining where God is at work around them?
Whatever you choose to celebrate, may your joy be a light for those around you. After all, it was the light of a single star that led the wise-men to the Messiah. It was the light of Christ that filled them with hope and courage to face the darkness. And in the darkness that Light continues to shine, and the darkness has not overcome it (John 1:5). That is good news for all who celebrate with you.
Merry Christmas, Happy Epiphany, and have the best Wednesday ever!
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