We’re in the season of Epiphany. I always feel sorry for Epiphany. It’s a shame to have such a remarkable name and always be ignored. I mean, it’s got to be tough to be the season that shows up right after Christmas, to mark the day we ought to have taken our trees down and stored our decorations. To be the liturgical mark on the calendar when everyone sighs some relief before we all start up with preparations for Lent. Poor thing.
Ah, Epiphany. I remember when I first learned that word. I was a secret word nerd in middle school and high school and would never have owned up to the fact that I loved learning the word “elaborate” in 7th grade Language Arts. It sounded so sexy on my tongue. “Elaborate!” Mr. Jester would say as he shuffled up and down our rows of desk and jingled the coins in his pocket, discussing the five-paragraph essay. I didn’t learn “epiphany” until I was in 12th grade, in Mr. English’s (yes, that was his name) English Lit class. He described it as an “Aha!” moment long before Oprah ever claimed the phrase. We would discuss the main character’s moment of epiphany, when she finally discovered what she was meant to know, recognized the truth that would change the course of her story.
I’ve been doing a study of Paul’s letters to Timothy in the New Testament, following a commentary and study guide by NT Wright. While studying 1 Timothy chapter 6 this past weekend, I happened to come across Wright’s description of the first century world in which Paul wrote his letters. Paul had a thing for using common phrases of the Roman Empire in his descriptions of Jesus. By using expressions normally reserved for Caesar, the Roman emperor, to describe Christ, Paul was subversive. It was his way of challenging the early believers’ (who read his letters) ideas of rule and citizenship. It was his way of reminding the early believers that their allegiance and service was to the true God, their only sovereign.
When the Caesar would show himself in public, his appearances would be “stunning and spectacular, giving the onlookers something to remember for a long time,” Wright says. The emperor was worshipped by much of the public and referred to as the ‘son of god.” According to Wright, “the idea of his ‘appearing’ combined the two notions: a major spectacular state visit, and a moment of divine revelation. The word that summed all this up was epiphaneia, the word from which Christians get ‘Epiphany.'” (Paul for Everyone: The Pastoral Letters, 73-74).
Epiphany generally lasts for eight weeks or so. It’s a season of time after the coming of Jesus into the world, and the spiritual preparation of Lent, when we set our hearts on order and wait for Jesus’ sacrifice on the cross. What is this time of Epiphany, this time in between supposed to be? It’s the story. The miracles. The healings. The gentleness of Christ. The establishment of a thinking entirely new. This is the season when we are visited by a man named Jesus, the season when he reveals himself to us.
The Book of Common Prayer opens each Morning Prayer throughout Epiphany with Isaiah 60:3. It says, “Nations shall come to your light, and kings to the brightness of your rising.” What does it mean for us to walk into that light during these dark days of January and February? What does it mean to watch for the appearance of our great emperor? What does it mean to seek out our moments of divine revelation?
Lent begins on March 9. My due date is March 11. I’m guessing I might be a little distracted during Lent. Perhaps I’d better be paying close attention to Epiphany…