If you’re following this blog or its Facebook page, chances are you know what Epiphany’s about.  After the twelve days of Christmas comes this holiday in which we celebrate the arrival of the magi, or wise men, bearing gifts for the Christ Child.  It is the beginning of the inclusion of the Gentiles in the worship of Jesus, the first fruits of “the wealth of the nations” flowing into the land of Israel.

But what fewer of you may realize is that this day has traditionally had three different points of focus, making it unusually “crowded” as a holy day.

Story #1: the adoration of the magi

The Communion service, being the primary liturgy in a given day, centers us on the story of Matthew 2:1-12.  This is what we normally think of when we look at The Day of the Epiphany.

Story #2: The Baptism of Jesus

At Morning Prayer, the New Testament lesson was traditionally from Luke 3, relating the ministry of John the Baptist, particularly highlighting his role in baptizing our Lord Jesus.  In the 1928 Prayer Book, this came to occupy the Communion Gospel for the 1st Sunday after the Epiphany.

Story #3: The Wedding at Cana

At Evening Prayer, the New Testament lesson was traditionally from John 2, telling the story of Jesus’ first miracle, turning water into wine.  In the Revised Common Lectionary (including our 2019 Prayer Book) this came to occupy the Communion Gospel for the 2nd Sunday after the Epiphany in the third year of the cycle.  That means we’ll get to hear it in just under two weeks!

Holding them all together

One might wonder what these other two stories have to do with the Epiphany.  I suspect that the more modern focus on the Magi and the inclusion of the Gentiles has muddied our ability to understand the more traditional Epiphany Day.  The central theme is noted in the very word epiphany.  It’s about the “showing” or “revealing” of God in the person of Jesus Christ.  It’s a holiday (and subsequent season) that focuses on showing us that this child whose birth we just celebrated is actually God-in-the-flesh.  The adoration of the Magi, with their symbolism-heavy gifts, shows us the divinity of Christ.  The baptism of Jesus is a break-through moment for all to see the Holy Trinity, including God the Son.  The wedding at Cana included the first “sign” by which Jesus would be known as the Christ, as God himself.

In our ACNA lectionary, it seems that we double up on the story of the Magi: it’s the Gospel at the Communion service as well as the New Testament lesson at Morning Prayer.  Evening Prayer gives us the Wedding at Cana.  The Baptism of Christ has been lost from the Epiphany Day celebrations.  But considering that we now celebrate it on the following Sunday in all three years of the Communion lectionary cycle, we aren’t missing much in omitting it on January 6th.  But it’s good that we have retained the Wedding at Cana reading, since that will only be heard at the Communion service on the 2nd Sunday once every three years.

4 thoughts on “Epiphany: A Crowded Holiday

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