Monday, January 6

Epiphany for a new year

When I was a young girl, I liked to collect interesting words.

Why say that something is well established and widely recognized when you can say that it's iconic?

Isn't it more fun to speak of the epitome rather than the ideal example of something?

Perhaps it's because my parents gave me such an unusual name, but I've always liked multisyllabic words. Of course, I've embarrassed myself plenty of times over the years as I've mispronounced those words or used them incorrectly. And as I've matured, I've learned to prize simplicity of speech. But my fascination with words continues.

One word that occupies a special place in my heart is epiphany, which I've always used as a synonym for an "aha!" moment or experience, what Merriam-Webster defines as "a usually sudden manifestation or perception of the essential nature or meaning of something." (What could be better than the definition of a multisyllabic word that contains three other multisyllabic words?)

When I was growing up and for a number of years after I became an adult, I had no idea that "epiphany" was any more than one of my beloved big words. Although I grew up with Christian parents who attended church regularly, learning about church history was not part of my education--quite the opposite, in fact. I grew up in a church that tried to practice religion as simply as possible, using only the Bible as a guide, eschewing any kind of creed or tradition. In some ways that was a good idea. In other ways, we missed out on a lot of wisdom.

After the birth, ministry, death, resurrection, and ascension of Jesus Christ, the church was established: a group of people who had been "born again" as Jesus explained to Nicodemus in John 3, who had been given the gift of the Holy Spirit, who were united in their love for Christ and their commitment to serve Him. Over the years, church leaders developed traditions to keep people's thoughts fixed on "things above," as described in Colossians 3:2. One of those traditions was the development of a church calendar—an ordering of the days of the year around the life of Christ. 

The church calendar begins not with January 1 as the start of a new year, but with Advent, the season of waiting for the coming of Christ. Then it moves into the 12-day celebration of Christmas. Maybe you're like me and assumed that the "12 Days of Christmas" was just a fun song to sing at Christmas parties. "Five golden rings" was always my favorite line. My mother had a small collection of Christmas decorations that featured a partridge in a pear tree. 

I knew nothing of Christmastide, which lasts from December 25 to January 6, a day for celebrating the visit of the wise men. "Epiphany" is the name for the celebration of that day, a commemoration of the greatest "aha" moment ever: the recognition by Gentile wise men of the infant Jesus as God incarnate.

As I learned about the tradition of Epiphany, one of my greatest joys was discovering a hymn written in the mid-19th century by an Englishman named William Dix. Here are the words:

As with gladness men of old
Did the guiding star behold,
As with joy they hailed its light
Leading onward, beaming bright,
So, most gracious Lord, may we
Evermore be led to Thee.

As with joyful steps they sped
To that lowly manger bed,
There to bend the knee before
Thee whom heaven and earth adore,
So may we with willing feet
Ever seek Thy mercy seat.

As they offered gifts most rare
At that manger rude and bare,
So may we with holy joy
Pure, and free from sin's alloy,
All our costliest treasures bring
Christ, to Thee, our heavenly King.

Holy Jesus, every day,
Keep us on the narrow way,
And, when earthy things are past,
Bring our ransomed souls at last
Where they need no star to guide,
Where no clouds Thy glory hide.

In the heavenly country bright
Need they no created light
Thou its light, its joy, its crown
Thou its sun, which goes not down.
There forever may we sing
Hallelujahs to our King.

As the hymn says, one day we won't need any "created light"; for now, tools and traditions like the church calendar seem like a really good idea.

As I think about the year just begun, I'm still trying to decide upon my goals and priorities, considering what might be my one word for 2020. In the process, I'm grateful for the wisdom and faithfulness of those who have gone before me. The writer of the book of Hebrews calls them the "great cloud of witnesses." Like them, I want to keep my eyes on Jesus, "the pioneer and perfecter of our faith" (Hebrews 12:2).

When I see "New Year, New You" messages all around me, I want to experience yet again the aha! moment of recognizing Jesus as Emmanuel—God with us. I am so grateful I don't have to make myself new; that's the work of God who is with me.


  1. do you celebrate the chalking of the doors for Epiphany?

  2. Great post, Richella... I LOVE church history. I, also, grew up in a Christian home, much like yours. It wasn't until about 20 years ago, the Lord saw fit to open the truth of the doctrines of grace, and church history became a BIG thing in my life, and my kids! So thankful! (Came by to see if the link party was live... Going to check the last one now to see if missed some news.)

  3. Richella,
    I, too, grew up in a very confined and closed religious group, with a defined and simplistic doctrine. I was very satisfied until I entered a time of questioning, which I have never left, at about the age of 18. I am now 66. I do a lot of reading, studying, etc. I feel that my faith goes up and down and I often struggle as I try to become closer to God and practice spiritual disciplines. And, I often feel cynical or skeptical. It seems that my faith came easier long ago, when I just accepted the traditions my faith group practiced. Do you ever feel unsure of yourself as you search for the logos of God - in both the written word and the personhood of Jesus? I feel this dichotomy particularly as Christmastime, as I attempt to celebrate the old, the new, and seek an epiphany in its many forms.


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