By JD Granade
I’ve seen/heard/read it on Facebook plenty this year: something along the lines of, “I just don’t know if I can honestly celebrate Christmas this year with everything going on in the world.” I know I have felt the same way from time to time. While I usually start the Christmas music non-stop right after Halloween (I know, I know, it’s shameful), this year I could only handle the merriment for a little while until the week before Christmas day.
But who could blame us for this slump? 2015 was a doozy of a year with the tragic realities of violence at the forefront (there have sadly been too many cases to list, but Tamir Rice comes immediately to mind). An already heated presidential election has both sides feeling more fearful than hopeful, and divisions are growing even larger. With all of this angst building up, it’s no wonder Christmas cheer was more scarce than usual.
I agree with the argument that Christmas (at least in the sacred sense) should, in fact, be a response to these woes.
For us as Christians, Christmas shouldn’t be about the fake glimmer of tinsel, but it should be about the light for all people. Ideally we would spend Advent focusing on Hope, Peace, Joy, and Love in the face of adversity and see Christ through the mire. I pray this did happen for you; it happened for me on Sunday mornings, but was quickly blotted out by decorations, malls, commercials, made-for-TV movies, Christmas radio music, etc. Don’t get me wrong; I don’t think there is anything inherently wrong with cheer, but against all the grief, it often seems like a façade. If you, like Cindy Lou Who have been wondering, “Where are you Christmas?,” perhaps what you need is Epiphany.
Growing up, Epiphany was, to me, just “Wise Men day”; it was the Sunday we sang “We Three Kings.” I have since learned it is much more.
Epiphany predates Christmas, being the third sacred time celebrated by the church (after Easter and Pentecost) by the fourth century. Originally it recognized the birth of Jesus, the Magi, Jesus’ baptism, and the first miracle (and any time in between). In Introduction to Christian Worship, James White argues Epiphany has a deeper meaning than Christmas because, “instead of simply being an anniversary of the birth of Christ, it testifies to the whole purpose of the incarnation: the manifestation of God in Jesus Christ, beginning both with his birth and with the beginning of his ministry.”
The thirty-year bulk of Jesus’ life is covered in a mere three weeks, but in this time we realize the wonder that is the incarnation. Like at Christmas, we see the humility of the Word made flesh. We also experience the Magi’s awe-filled response to this miracle. We see Jesus take on his calling in the baptismal waters and we toast to the beginning of his ministry at the wedding in Cana. During Epiphany we acknowledge how immensely important it is that God became human. It is in this time the Creator of the universe learned to walk and talk. Jesus learned how to laugh and cry. Friendships were made and lost. Our God knew what it was to be a person, fully human in joy and pain. That is why Christ’s ministry (the focus of the Gospel and the liturgical year) means so much, it comes from our traveling companion.
I hope Christmas was exactly what you needed amid the anguish of this past year. Whether you wholly embraced waiting in Hope, Peace, Joy, and Love for the coming of Emmanuel, God with us, or you struggled to see the light through the tragedies of our world, Epiphany is a season that we should not overlook. May we spend this season focusing on the full effect of the incarnation, remembering that Jesus experienced the suffering and trials of being human, and the final answer is a hope that triumphs over tragedy. May we experience the whole picture, good and bad, as it is captured in the last verses of that great Epiphany hymn:
Born a king on Bethlehem’s plain,
Gold I bring to crown Him again,
King forever, ceasing never
Over us all to reign.
Frankincense to offer have I.
Incense owns a Deity nigh.
Prayer and praising all men raising,
Worship Him, God on high.
Myrrh is mine: it’s bitter perfume
Breaths a life of gathering gloom.
Sorrowing, sighing, bleeding dying,
Sealed in the stone-cold tomb.
Glorious now behold Him arise,
King and God and Sacrifice.
Sounds through the earth and skies.
JD Granade serves as the Minister to Children at First Baptist Church in Commerce, GA. He is a second year student at McAfee School of Theology where he studies Congregational Ministry.
- Text Week offers Epiphany related resources. Visit their Epiphany page to learn more!
- ChurchWorks Conference creates space for renewal in ministry through practices of creativity, community and worship. To teach the people of God, educators need a place to learn, reflect and laugh together. ChurchWorks is for practitioners of education and spiritual formation in the congregational setting. Learn more and register here.
- Living the Christian Year: Time to Inhabit the Story of God by Bobby Gross. Whether you’re familiar or unfamiliar with following the liturgical year, this book makes it easy to do, offering the significance and history of each season, ideas for living out God’s Story in your own life, and devotions that follow the church calendar for each day of the year.
- Moyo is a spiritually minded community for those looking to engage with global issues. Learn more about them here.