I was asked to write this article on Epiphany by Chip, and in all honestly my first question was, “Chip… what is Epiphany?” You see, most of the great folks I work with have a Methodist or Anglican background. I, on the other hand, have a Baptist background, and we Baptists don’t celebrate Epiphany. When I asked Nicolet, “What is Epiphany?” she laughed and said, “Chip probably doesn’t remember you’re a Baptist.”
Charles Dickens was on to something when, in his novel A Christmas Carol, he described humanity’s journey through the lenses of past, present, and future. The hero (begun as the villain) of the story was Ebenezer Scrooge — a prominent, self-centered, greedy old man. Scrooge despised good cheer and celebrations like Christmas because he had long forgotten the winding roads of his own journey. In doing so, he left behind the avenues of fond memories, lost loves, and compassion for his fellow human beings. You know how the story goes, as Scrooge’s descent into a broken life engaged the Ghost of Christmas Past, the Ghost of Christmas Present, and the Ghost of Christmas Yet-to-Come. Through some not-so-pleasant windows into Scrooge’s life, the spirits convinced him that he needed to change, and motivated his transformation.
I was having a conversation with a young(ish) pastor about a book the other day, and he mentioned that he and his family were “wrapping up the twelve days of Christmas.” I just looked at him. “Um… how can you be wrapping up the twelve days of Christmas, when they haven’t started yet?” He told me he thought it started on December 13, and wrapped up on the 25th, and didn’t really believe me when I told him the season starts on Christmas morning, and ends on Twelfthnight (January 6). It’s what is called “Christmastide,” and is a celebration that begins with the birth of Jesus and end on Epiphany, the day we celebrate the three kings arriving to meet the baby Jesus. My background is in medieval church history, and I think there are rich Christian traditions surrounding the holiday season that are often overlooked or forgotten. So, just in case you weren’t clear on your church history, I thought it would be good to talk about Christmastide.
In the Sermon on the Mount Jesus tells us not to worry because we have a Heavenly Father who meets our needs. The verses say:
“That is why I tell you not to worry about everyday life—whether you have enough food and drink, or enough clothes to wear. Isn’t life more than food, and your body more than clothing? Look at the birds. They don’t plant or harvest or store food in barns, for your heavenly Father feeds them. And aren’t you far more valuable to him than they are?” (Matthew 6:25-26 NLT)
I love Christmas because it is about surprises! We sneak around and buy gifts, then we wrap them and place them under our Christmas trees. There is still a little kid in most of us. Have you ever gotten one of those gifts that totally caught you off guard? Have you ever given a gift that you could hardly keep secret because you knew the person opening it would be so surprised? There is so much joy in watching someone receive a gift they never expected.
“WOOOOWWWW!” I hear for the 100th time followed by pitter-patter feet as my little girl races towards the Christmas tree. She never gets tired of it. Time after time, we come down the stairs, we round the corner, and her reaction is the same: