…and no, I do not mean “a moment of sudden insight or understanding.” Rather, I mean “a Christian festival on the 6th of January that celebrates the arrival of the wise men who came to see Jesus of Nazareth soon after he was born.” Sometimes called “Twelfth Night,” It is also a celebration of the manifestation of Christ to the Gentiles as represented by the Wise Men. Epiphany is one of those Christian holidays that is celebrated very differently, with subtle differences in associations, throughout all of Christianity. If your church follows a liturgical calendar at all (increasingly rare these days), other than so-called “ordinary time,” Epiphany is one of the smaller celebrations, but that did not used to be the case.
It has me reflecting on the liturgical calendar generally as well as other increasingly disappearing Christian practices. Some practices are dying for theological reasons. Protestants generally have a huge theological issues with the imagery of Roman Catholicism and the icons of Orthodoxy – Protestants consider them idolatrous. Sometimes practices disappear for more practical, but related reasons. Imagery and iconography were vital in a pre-literate age. Protestantism, born of widespread literacy, had far less need for them. This Protestant finds the issue about idolatry very real, but would remind fellow Protestants that we often idolize Scripture in a very similar fashion to those that idolize images or icons. The liturgical calendar served a similar function – reminding the illiterate faithful of the events of the life of Christ.
Unfortunately, most Christians today have little understanding of the things I talked about in the previous paragraph – they have no sense of history and cannot be bothered with learning. They simply do not care for such practices and would discard them as “archaic,” thus reducing ancient tradition functionally to matters of taste. Things will inevitably change, but I cannot help but think that we owe tradition more consideration than simply “I don’t like it,” or “I wasn’t raised that way.” I think this is particularly true of Protestants who claim intellectual activity as their basis of faith.
I think it also important that we understand when we limit our faith to intellectual activity we miss out on something. Pentecostals will of course run to the previous sentence telling me they have forgotten nothing. Perhaps, but Pentecostalism is so often out-of-control emotionalism that it can miss the mark just as much as those that idolize Scripture.
Many of the old practices bring Christianity to parts of our being that are simply inaccessible intellectually. Writing and reading are an intellectual activity, so I am at a loss as to how to write about the things I am discussing here. I have written before about the deeply profound experiences I have had at ancient, holy places. That is as close as I can come. Such experiences reach deeply inside me and transform me, something very different than the release I have seen in my Pentecostal friends.
My life has been greatly enriched by learning of these ancient practices, their meaning and significance. I am sure they can become tired and rote as can any routine practice. But I have found that maintaining “relevance” comes from focusing on the reasons and depth in the liturgical, not moving on to different practices.
My prayer this Sunday morning is that we can acknowledge and understand just what Epiphany means, and incorporate that into our lives. We are, most of us, Gentile in origin. Epiphany is the day we discovered Christ. That’s a pretty important thing.