Summary: Where is He born King of the Jews? Where was God in the slaughter of the innocents? God was in a caring Father and Mother who fled to Egypt to protect the precious life of the child. God was in this Christ reconciling the world to himself.
Celebrating Epiphany Isaiah 60__ 1 – 6
The Christian’s calendar is always out of sync with the secular calendar. And to further confuse Christian children in regard to holidays, the sacred holidays differ from Church to Church. The Orthodox celebrate Christmas on days different from Latin Rite churches and the Churches that came out of the Reformation.
On our Anglican calendar, today we celebrate the Epiphany – the feast of the manifestation of Christ to the Gentiles. The Eastern church, that is the Greek Orthodox, observe this day to remember the Baptism of Jesus. It was in the fourth century that the Western European, Latin Rite Church associated this day with the visit of the Magi, the wise men. So from the view point of a historian, the question, “what is the traditional day to celebrate the feast of Epiphany” would bring this answer: “It depends on whose tradition you are following.”
The elderly gentleman who taught Gospels at Cincinnati Christian University, when lecturing on the birth of Jesus attempted to use the year of Herod the Great mentioned in Scripture, the Jewish Calendar, an ancient astrologers zodiacal map or sky chart and the arrangement of the planets to determine that Jesus was actually born in 4 B.C. He didn’t argue strenuously for the “right day” to celebrate Christmas - but pointed out the heart of the argument should be that there really was a day in history when God visited His people. That God was in Christ reconciling the world to Himself is the important fact. Our Christian traditions shouldn’t lead us to quibble with our Christian brothers over a traditional date, but to joyously celebrate with them the entry of light into a dark world.
My life has been blessed by association with Christians from a number of communions, all with differing traditions. Even within what we refer to as Anglicanism, there are differing traditions. When someone asks me about the right way to arrange an altar, or to count Holy days, or arrange lectionaries, I have to stop and think - does this person want a history lecture with all the possibilities, or is the question limited to a specific era, a specific denomination, a specific geography, and a local tradition? In a large modern City in culturally diverse America, the answer might depend on which block of the Metroplex the questioner is standing.
We use the term “celebrate” in the technical sense of “perform with proper rites”. The
Magi, of course, came to Israel not to initiate a new holiday but they came looking for answer. “Where is the child born king?” Now I ask you, why do we “celebrate Epiphany?
Numerically, there are not many Americans who are what used to be called, “Cradle Episcopalians.” There was a time when a person who took that tradition seriously would rail against those careless Americans who took down the decorations before 12th night, and like me would say, “Christmas just begins on December 25th, its not over yet” when he saw people disposing of Christmas trees on December 26 or January 1.
Which tradition is correct? East or West? That sort of question is unanswerable on one level, because it is a bad question. The answer is conditioned on the geography and the history of the peoples living in a specific locality. The proper question in regard to Epiphany is not the day on which we celebrate the manifestation of Christ to the Gentiles. The proper question in regard to Christmas is not whether we celebrate it in December or January, with reference to Eastern Rite or Western Rite texts and traditions; the proper question is that asked by the Magi: “Where is He who is born King of the Jews?”
The right question, is “do we come to these days looking for the King?”
The civil calendar with its holidays have traditionally, for Christians, been out of sync with the Holy Days of the Church.
There is good reason for this. The Romans, who ruled the Western world at the time of Jesus’ birth, celebrated a Holiday at the end of the year called Saturnalia. This pagan feast was not something in which a Christian could participate. The Christians began counting the year differently. You will notice, that though we Americans follow the old Roman Civil Calendar, that Christians don’t count the new year as January 1. Our year, the rhythm of our lives, begin with ADVENT. We’re a little off from the civil calendar on purpose. By the time we arrive at the civil New Year, we are already thinking not of pagan celebrations, but the wonder of God’s entry into the world. We are looking forward to the gospel light shining in a Dark place and we think of our missionary responsibility to the world around us.