January 6th was the first day of Epiphany. Since many Christians are not familiar with this season of the Christian Year, I want to post an excerpt from a booklet I wrote a couple years ago called Time for God: An Introduction to Living the Christian Year. If you’d like to learn (or be reminded of) what this season is all about and some ideas for how you might embody it this year, then this post is for you.
Have you ever been in need of light? Maybe you’ve stumbled around in a room, stubbing your tow on a table-leg while searching for something. If so, then you know the relief and joy that comes with light (and the frustration of darkness!). If Advent is about preparing for the light, and if Christmas is about the coming of light, then Epiphany is about that light shining bright for the whole world to see. Historically, three events in particular are given special emphasis during Epiphany: the visit of the wise men from the East (Matt 2:1-12); the baptism of Jesus (Matt 3:13-17); and the turning of water into wine (John 2). Epiphany means “manifestation” and is about God revealing himself through the life, teachings, and miracles of Jesus.
So if this is what Epiphany is about, how exactly do we inhabit this season? By discovering and displaying Jesus. If you have committed to living the Christian year, you may be thinking, “Wait, I’ve already discovered Jesus. That’s why I’m doing this Christian year thing.” But isn’t it possible that there are ways in which Jesus wants to grow, even challenge some of our assumptions about who he is and what it means to follow him as a disciple? Actually, isn’t it probable? This is precisely what Philip Yancey suggests in his book, The Jesus I Never Knew, when he writes,
The more I studied Jesus, the more difficult it became to pigeonhole him. He said little about the Roman occupation, the main topic of conversation among his countrymen, and yet he took up a whip to drive petty profiteers from the Jewish temple. He urged obedience to the Mosaic law while acquiring the reputation as a lawbreaker. He could be stabbed by sympathy for a stranger, yet turn on his best friend with a flinty rebuke, “Get behind me, Satan!” He had uncompromising views on rich men and loose women, yet both types enjoyed his company… Two words one could never think of applying to the Jesus of the Gospels: boring and predictable (23).
As we seek to inhabit Epiphany, we’re invited to discover Jesus in new and fresh ways. To be surprised, humbled, and delighted by him – as well as confused and frustrated at times.
But we are not only invited to discover Jesus during Epiphany; we are also invited to display him. Imagine for a moment that a painful and deadly plague broke out and began to spread around the world. It infected everyone. You. Your friends. Family members. Neighbors. Co-workers. And imagine that there was no cure… until you discovered one. After successfully administering the cure to yourself, what would you do? Would you hide it and not tell anyone? (Of course not!) Would you sell it to the highest bidder? (I hope not.) You’d share it with everyone you know. You’d use every relationship, every communication platform at your disposal to get the word out so that everyone could be saved. Epiphany reminds us that Jesus is like that cure. He’s the one everyone needs. He’s the one through whom God wants to heal the whole world. Jesus tells his followers not only to “come and see” but also to “go and tell.” Through our lives, words, and actions, Epiphany invites us to become a living display of Jesus. As Bobby Gross puts it,
The one who summons us to himself sends us out on his behalf. The one who shows himself to us asks us to make him known to others. The one who declares, “I am the light of the world,” says to us, “You are the light of the world” (84).
During this season, consider adopting a new practice or habit that in some way embodies the heart of Epiphany. Feel free to choose from this list of suggested practices, or come up with one on your own.
- Do Something to Rediscover Jesus – It’s so easy to remake Jesus in our own image, to assume he thinks like me, acts like me, votes like me. But the more we get to know Jesus, the more we realize how gloriously unpredictable he is and we’re reminded that the goal of knowing him is to be remade into his image (not the other way around). Here are some ways you might consider rediscovering Jesus this Epiphany season.
- Read one of the four gospels in one sitting. It doesn’t take as long as you think! Or consider reading a gospel a week for four weeks. However you do it, pay extra close attention to Jesus as you read. Notice the stuff he says, what he does, how he he treats people. What upsets him? What upsets others about him? Make yourself a student of Jesus. It might help to write your observations in a journal as you read.
- Read the Sermon on the Mount (Matthew 5-7) once a week for five weeks (there are five weeks in Epiphany). That may sound daunting, but reading it is actually quite easy. The hard part is living it! Ask God as you read to help you become more like Jesus, who perfectly practiced what he preached.
- Identify someone in your life whom you respect, who loves Jesus, and whose life resembles his in visible ways. Offer to buy them coffee or a meal, then as you’re together ask them to talk about their walk with Jesus. Ask them how they’ve cultivated a close walk with him. What spiritual disciplines do they practice? What have their challenges been? What doubts and questions have they had? What people, books, experiences have had the biggest influence on their faith?
- Do Something to Display Jesus – Most parents are quick to talk about their children. Some people jump at the chance to discuss politics. Others could talk about sports all day long. It’s a fact of life that the stuff we enjoy talking about is usually what we love. If that’s true, why can it be so difficult to talk about Jesus with others? One way to inhabit Epiphany is to intentional do something that encourages displaying Jesus to others. The following ideas are adapted from the book Living the Christian Year by Bobby Gross:
- Ask Jesus to increase your compassion for those far from God and for greater courage to speak to them.
- Read a book to sharpen your thinking about sharing your faith (Check out one called The Best Kept Secret of Christian Mission by John Dickson).
- Choose a few friends or coworkers or family members to pray for during Epiphany.
- Become alert to openings in your everyday conversations where you can mention Jesus in a natural and interesting way.
- If someone seems open, suggest going for coffee and some conversation about spiritual matters – be prepared to really listen to their experiences, beliefs and questions.
- Invite a neighbor to come to a social activity with your Community Group or to a Sunday morning worship gathering.
- Give a friend a thoughtful book on Jesus or the Christian faith (here are a few recommended books: The Jesus I Never Knew by Philip Yancey; Who Is This Man? by John Ortberg; The Reason for God by Tim Keller)
Suggested Prayer Prompts
Use these prompts to guide your time of prayer. Rather than thinking of these as scripts that restrict or limit your prayers, think of them as conversation starters between you and God. Let them guide your heart and mind as you pray. Oh, and as you pray, don’t forget to listen.
In what ways does my understanding of you need to be challenged?
These are some of the things that I love about you… These are some things that confuse me…
Why is it so hard for me to talk about you with others?
Please burden my heart for those who are far from you.
What’s an area of my life that sorely needs to look more like you?
Thank you for the example of your life.
Pastor – Chrio Church