For those of us in the Protestant tradition, Epiphany is one of those dates on the church calendar that is often overlooked. In the Western Church, Epiphany is celebrated on January 6th. In the Orthodox tradition, Epiphany is celebrated on January 19th. This is due to a difference in calendars.
The Gregorian calendar is used in most of the world and for the international date and time standard (ISO). But in some parts of the world, the Julian calendar is still used. In 45 BC, Julius Caesar commissioned Greek mathematicians and astronomers to create a calendar that would more accurately conform to the solar year. The Julian calendar adjusted the number of days in each month compared to the previous Roman calendar and provided for one extra day every four years. The Julian calendar would have been in use in the Roman Empire at the time of Christ.
The Gregorian calendar was introduced by Pope Gregory XIII in 1582. By Gregory’s time, the Julian calendar was no longer in sync with the solar year and so the Gregorian calendar was re-synchronized and given a slightly more accurate formula to calculate leap years. Due to this discrepancy, the two calendar systems do not directly correlate. For example, today is December 29th on the Gregorian calendar, but only December 16th on the Julian calendar. And so, most of our brothers and sisters in the Orthodox tradition have not yet celebrated Christmas.
Traditionally, Epiphany is observed as the day the Wise Men arrived in Bethlehem to worship Jesus (Matt. 2). In some denominations, it is remembered as the day Jesus was baptized by John in the Jordan River. Epiphany is the celebration of God revealing His salvation to the Gentiles.
The Feast of the Epiphany takes place twelve days after Christmas. In some parts of the world, Epiphany, or the Feast of the Three Kings, is cause for great celebration. It marks the end of the Christmas Season, or the Twelve Days of Christmas. William Shakespeare’s comedy, the Twelfth Night, is thought to have been written for the close of the Christmas Season as the Twelfth Night refers to the eve of Epiphany.
Our word epiphany comes from the Greek word, epiphaneia, meaning a manifestation and from epiphanes, meaning conspicuous, memorable, or notable. The Cambridge dictionary defines an epiphany as “a moment when you suddenly feel that you understand, or suddenly become conscious of, something that is very important to you.” An epiphany is like a light that shines in the darkness. It illuminates that which once was hidden. It makes known that which had previously lain undiscovered.
That is what Jesus brought to the Jewish people. They knew the Scriptures, but Jesus brought new insight and understanding that truly illuminated God’s Word. Not only so, but He Himself was an epiphany, a memorable manifestation of God the Father. Jesus is like a light shining in the darkness for all who receive Him. To see and know Him is to see and know the Father (John 14:6-10).
To paraphrase Isaiah the prophet, “The people who walked in darkness, saw a great light.” (Matt. 4:14-16, Isa. 9:2)
Therefore, John the Apostle proclaimed of Him, “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was in the beginning with God. All things came into being through Him, and apart from Him nothing came into being that has come into being. In Him was life, and the life was the Light of men. The Light shines in the darkness, and the darkness did not comprehend it.” (John 1:1-5)
The light shines in the darkness, but the darkness has no understanding. The darkness sees the light, but it cannot comprehend. There must be an epiphany – a moment of clarity and insight. There must be a stepping out of the darkness and into the light for understanding to take place.
That was what the magi did. They stepped out of darkness and followed the star. They searched and they sojourned until they found the source of the Light. And when they found the infant Jesus, they worshipped Him.
When I hear these words from the beginning of John’s gospel, I am reminded of two things:
- First: Jesus is the one true source of the Light. Only the light of Christ brings life. He is the source of Light. He is the source of Hope.
- Second: The darkness will never comprehend the Light.
Why is it that we so often look at the darkness around us and expect it look and act like the light? Why do we look at those walking in darkness and puzzle over why they do the things they do and say the things they say? Perhaps it is because we have forgotten they are lost in the darkness! Or perhaps, it is because we ourselves have forgotten to walk in the Light.
In the first letter of John, the Apostle writes,
This is the message we have heard from Him and announce to you, that God is Light, and in Him there is no darkness at all. If we say that we have fellowship with Him and yet walk in the darkness, we lie and do not practice the truth; but if we walk in the Light as He Himself is in the Light, we have fellowship with one another, and the blood of Jesus His Son cleanses us from all sin. (1John 1:5-7)
To walk in the Light is to walk in the way of the Lord, going where He leads, and doing things His way. When we walk in the Light we experience fellowship with Jesus because we are sticking close to Him.
On the other hand, when we insist on taking shortcuts and doing things our own way, we can find the light becoming fainter and the fellowship of His presence more distant. We look around us at those stumbling in the darkness with perplexed consternation rather than with the compassion of the Lord Jesus.
But that is not what Jesus had in mind.
I don’t know about you, but there have been seasons in my life when I walked in close fellowship with Him and daily experienced His Light in my life. And there have been seasons in my life when I wandered off and tried to do things my own way and He had to keep bringing me back and cleaning me up again (1John 1:8-9). There have also been times when I dragged my feet a bit, not really sticking close to Him, but just close enough to see my next step.
The thing is, the epiphanies, the breakthroughs, those moments of clarity and spiritual insight don’t happen on the outskirts. They happen when you get right up next to Jesus. Those are the moments that make you want to bow down and worship, just like the magi did when they came face to face with Jesus.
The wise men found Jesus because they went looking for Him, they searched for Him diligently until they found Him. Herod chose to remain in the darkness.
Where are you walking? Are you walking in the Light of Jesus?
Are you reading His Word, learning to understand His ways? Are you spending time in prayer, talking with Him and listening for His voice? Do you know Him better today than ever before?
Jesus said, “I am the Light of the world; he who follows Me will not walk in the darkness, but will have the Light of life.” (John 8:12)
He also said, “You are the light of the world. A city set on a hill cannot be hidden; nor does anyone light a lamp and put it under a basket, but on the lampstand, and it gives light to all who are in the house. Let your light shine before men in such a way that they may see your good works, and glorify your Father who is in heaven.” (Matt. 5:14-16)
Jesus calls us out of darkness and into light. He calls us to walk in the Light, to live our lives in His light. When we do, our lives become like lamps filled with His light, fueled by His Spirit, shining into the darkness of the world around us.
Jesus calls us out of darkness and into light, but not only for our own benefit. He calls us to walk close to Him, to walk in His light, so that we too will shine with the Light of life. When we become like lamps, bearing His light, the light reaches to those around us.
Jesus said we should let our light shine before others in such a way that they see our good works and glorify the Father in heaven. People will be drawn to those who do good works, who do what is right and good. When they are drawn nearer, what will they see? When they are drawn nearer and find us walking close to Jesus, they won’t just see us, they will see Him.
You may feel that you are small and insignificant. But it only takes a small flame to light up a room. The closer you are to Jesus, the brighter His light will shine.
Next Sunday is the Twelfth Night, the eve of Epiphany. For many of us, once Christmas Day has passed, we put it behind us and look toward the New Year. We look toward January 1st and make ourselves promises we will probably never keep. We look to the new year for new opportunities and new hope.
Perhaps we ought to look instead to January 6th, to Epiphany. Perhaps we ought to remember that the wise men searched and sojourned, not just for twelve days, but likely for nearly two years to find the Light of the World. They persevered because they knew that finding the true King was worth all the treasures in the world.
Hope in a new year will disappoint. Hope is not found in calendars or New Year’s resolutions.
Hope is found in Jesus. Light is found in Jesus. Love is found in Jesus.
Search for Him and you will find Him when you search for Him with all your heart.