Wednesday, November 9, 2011

Seeing Epiphany Whole

The new issue of Christian Reflection: A Series in Faith and Ethics published by The Center for Christian Ethics at Baylor University includes my article "Seeing Epiphany Whole" (vol. 41, no. 4, pp. 61-68). Here's a snippet from the opening of the article:

epiph∙a∙ny noun 1 capitalizedJanuary 6 observed as a church festival in commemoration of the coming of the Magi as the first manifestation of Christ to the Gentiles or in the Eastern Church in commemoration of the baptism of Christ; 2  : an appearance or manifestation especially of a divine being 3  a (1)a usually sudden manifestation or perception of the essential nature or meaning of something; (2)an intuitive grasp of reality through something (as an event) usually simple and striking; (3): an illuminating discovery, realization, or disclosure; b: a revealing scene or moment.

As the dictionary definition of “epiphany” suggests, there is a tension between the non-religious use of the word and the meaning of the Christian observance of Epiphany: the origins, associations, and essential theological meaning of the feast and ensuing season of the Christian year are not easily perceived or intuitively grasped in a “simple and striking” manner. Epiphany is a season of variable length (depending on the date of Easter) that begins on January 6 and extends to the beginning of Lent. It was celebrated as a commemoration of the baptism of Christ beginning in the third century, but by the fourth century in the West it also became associated with the manifestation of Christ to the Gentiles in the persons of the Magi. Subsequent associations with events in the life of Jesus have included Christ’s miraculous provision of wine for the wedding at Cana. Rather than a feast and season with an “essential nature or meaning,” Epiphany can seem like a cacophonous party marking disjointed events.

What ties together this wealth of images? The Greek word epiphaneia, of which “Epiphany” is a transliteration, means “manifestation”—thus the non-religious usage of the word in the sense of “a revealing scene or moment.” Understanding Epiphany as a feast and season that celebrates divine revelation can help the Church see Epiphany whole.

In the near future the entirety of the article and the issue of Christian Reflection in which it appears will be available in PDF on the web site of The Center for Christian Ethics, along with a study guide and other accompanying resources. When posted, I will provide the link in an updated post here.

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