Seasons of the Church: Sundays after Epiphany

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"Arise, shine, for your light has come,
and the glory of the LORD rises upon you.
See, darkness covers the earth
and thick darkness is over the peoples,
but the LORD rises upon you
and his glory appears over you.
Nations will come to your light,
and kings to the brightness of your dawn."

Isaiah 60:1-3

EPIPHANY

The word comes from the ancient Greek, epiphanein, meaning "to show" or "to manifest" and often referred to the presentation of kings or divinity.

The Epiphany is that part of the Christian calendar which shows us the true meaning of Christmas. If on Christmas day we received the wonderful gift of Jesus, it is at the Epiphany that the gift is opened and we discover the brilliance of God's Son, who emptied himself and became a human being in order to demonstrate the love of God for a fallen creation.

The Epiphany refers both to a season following Christmas and to a particular day that is deeply imbedded in Christian tradition.

EPIPHANY DAY

Epiphany Day, the 6th of January, refers to those events of Jesus' birth and early ministry in which he was manifested to the world as the Son of God. Still celebrated as Christmas in some Orthodox churches, the Epiphany commemorates the wise men - Magi - from the east who came bearing gifts of gold, frankincense and myrrh.

The story of their search for a new king and their observation of a marvelous star leading them to Bethlehem, portray the revealing of God's Son to all the nations. "For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life" (John 3:16 NIV).

COLOURS

The Sundays of the Lord's Baptism and the Transfiguration are special celebrative days, so the traditional colour is white. The traditional colour throughout the season after Epiphany is green, like the season of Kingdomtide, indicating the growth of the church.

The Epiphany also refers to the baptism of Jesus, where he was revealed as God's Son by heavenly vision. At the beginning of his ministry, Jesus first was baptised in the River Jordan. The Gospel of Mark records the event: "As Jesus was coming up out of the water, he saw heaven being torn open and the Spirit descending on him like a dove. And a voice came from heaven: 'You are my Son, whom I love; with you I am well pleased'" (Mark 1:10-11 NIV).

Whether or not churches use the word "Epiphany", Christians know that Jesus was born to reveal God to the world. He is the Word of God, "the only Son of God, God from God, Light from Light, true God from true God, begotten, not made" (Nicene Creed).

Because of that first manifestation of God in Christ, Christians continue bearing witness to Jesus and His Kingdom as the salvation of the nations. He is Lord of Lords and King of kings. "He is the head of the body, the church; he is the beginning and the firstborn from among the dead, so that in everything he might have the supremacy" (Colossians 1:18 NIV).

THE SEASON OF EPIPHANY

Epiphany also refers to a season between Christmas and Lent, comprising four to nine Sundays, depending on the dating of Easter. This season stands between the two great Christological cycles of Advent-Christmas-Epiphany and Lent-Easter-Pentecost. During this time the church focuses on Jesus' life and teaching, especially as that reveals him as Son of God.

Special days in the Season of Epiphany, for those using the Revised Common Lectionary, include the Baptism of our Lord, which is the first Sunday after January 6, and Transfiguration Sunday, the last Sunday before Lent. Some churches may use the Baptism Sunday as an opportunity for those who want to be baptised or as a time for congregational reaffirmation of baptism. Transfiguration Sunday recalls the account when Jesus took three disciples to a hill-top and was transfigured, that is, the disciples saw him in his post-resurrection splendor.

THE LECTIONARY

One of the oldest patterns of Christian worship is the public reading of Scripture. From ancient times churches have used a lectionary, a weekly pattern for public reading of the Old and New Testaments with the Psalms and Gospels. One of the most widely used lectionaries among Protestants is the Revised Common Lectionary. It is a three-year reading cycle that goes through every book of the Bible and traces the life of Jesus through the different seasons. By faithfully following the lection, a pastor could preach on all aspects of the Bible within a three-year period. It has often been said that the leccion forces the preacher to use texts that might otherwise be neglected. While Methodist pastors have the option of using the lectionary for preaching, they need not feel constrained to follow it legalistically, but as a guide that reflects the wisdom of the whole church.

This season, like the seasons following Pentecost, are sometimes referred to as Ordinary Time, not meaning that they are "common", but counted (ordinal). No Sunday of the year should be common. Every Sunday is a little Easter, a time to celebrate the resurrection of our Lord Jesus Christ. For more information on Epiphany see the article on Christmas.

The observation of the church seasons can be a valuable tool for teaching the life of Christ, for character development and the formation of Christian disciples. At Epiphany and the season following we can reflect on how Christ is revealed today in Singapore and the region, and how our mission movement can be strengthened to further reveal the Son of God.

There is a growing ecumenical consensus, including The United Methodist Church, based in America, which refers to this season as the Season after the Epiphany, so that Epiphany day, the 6th of January, is still part of the Christmas season.

REFERENCES

The United Methodist Book of Worship

http://www.cresourcei.org/cyepiph.html

http://www.kencollins.com/Holy-03.htm

http://www.newadvent.org/cathen/05504c.htm