Pastor Chris Tweitmann
For most of the rest of the world, Christmas is but a distant memory. But within the Christian tradition, at least for the last fifteen hundred years, the celebration continues beyond December 25th for twelve days. The endpoint of each annual observance of Christmas in the Church, the twelfth day is called Epiphany.
The word “Epiphany” comes from Greek and means “manifestation” or “showing forth.” Distinct from and yet related to the focus of Christmas, Epiphany celebrates the revelation of the glory of God through His Son, Jesus Christ. Many different manifestations of this revelation are commemorated. First, the coming of the wise men from the East to worship the infant Christ shortly after His birth. Then, the Baptism of Jesus in the river Jordan by John the Baptist, with the voice from heaven declaring that this Jesus is the beloved son of God. There also is Jesus’ visit, at twelve years old, to the Temple at Jerusalem, where all the teachers and scribes were astonished by His understanding and His answers regarding the word of God. Finally, there are a series of miracles Jesus performs which also serve as a window into who He is the changing of water into wine at the marriage feast at Cana; the healing of a leper, and the calming of the troubled Sea of Galilee.
These different moments are all tied together by one common theme. Collectively, they reveal Jesus is not just the promised Messiah, but surprisingly, the eternal Word made flesh, God come down to save us. Epiphany reminds us the gift of Christmas is one that continues to be unveiled to us and therefore bears ongoing meditation and reflection. We ought not to forget or to think we completely comprehend the power and glory of God. The wonder of it all beckons us deeper into the beautiful mystery of the Incarnation.
For Protestant churches that tell time based on the Church calendar, the season of Epiphany extends from January 6 until Ash Wednesday and the start of Lent. The last Sunday of the season of Epiphany is celebrated as Transfiguration Sunday, yet another revelation as to the identity of Christ. We will be spending the season of Epiphany and then afterwards, Lent, following Jesus through the Gospel of John.
Before we go there, this Sunday we will begin by remembering Jesus’ baptism by John at the Jordan River. Together we will consider this defining moment through the lens of one final, Christmas carol. Our song of focus will be the African American spiritual, “Go Tell It on the Mountain.”
Created by an unknown African American slave, “Go Tell It on the Mountain” is a delightful and deceptively simple tune. We must be careful not to overlook the message of its straightforward approach. This carol challenges us to view all true Christmas songs as more than a creative way of singing “Happy Birthday” to Jesus. We sing at Christmas in order to share the Gospel. Likewise, when we share the Gospel in word and deed, the gift of Christmas is not forgotten and continues to be shared.
Salvation has come into human history at Bethlehem, but the good news of this salvation has not reached yet to the ends of the earth. Our voices must not be silenced. Our hands and feet, our whole body, must, like creation itself continue to move and groan, in anticipation of the last, greatest Christmas still to come. Come join us to be encouraged and inspired to go and tell, in word and deed, about who has come to us and why.