January 6, the feast of Epiphany, marks the official end of the Christmas season. But while our neighbors have taken down their decorations to go about their everyday business, the church is not finished celebrating just yet.
The feast of the Epiphany is traditionally associated with the “wise men,” who traveled a great distance by starlight to bring gold, frankincense and myrrh to the Christ child. However, while we remember these kings and their gifts, they are not the true focus of Epiphany. This is a feast about the manifestation (what “epiphany” actually means!) of Jesus Christ as the light to the Gentiles. The season of Epiphany is a time to focus on the glory of Jesus Christ, the mission of the church to make disciples of all nations and the gift of God’s grace in revealing “the light of his countenance” to us (Ps. 42:5).
It seems strange, in a way, to celebrate the glory of Christ immediately following Christmas. After all, the Christmas narratives in the Gospels and our most popular Christmas songs recount the humble circumstances into which Jesus was born: outside of an inn in Bethlehem, with only livestock and shepherds for a welcome party. And yet we know that God seldom concerns himself with humanity’s preconceived ideas. The glory of the Lord is shown in surprising and unconventional ways throughout the Bible: in answering his people when they call (Ps. 138:1-3); in bestowing his grace upon us through his Son (Eph. 1:6); and, as the Gospel of John tells us repeatedly, in the crucifixion of Jesus Christ (cf. John 17:1-2). The glory of God is the grace he shows in dwelling with his undeserving people, even unto death.
Epiphany is a season of surprises—a season of revelation that makes little sense to the world. Where the world expects prestige, God comes in humility and vulnerability. The God of Israel reveals himself also to be the Light of the World, even to the Gentiles! And, through believing, Jew and Gentile alike are brought into the fold of the church, the body whose mission it is to share the good news of Jesus Christ’s glorification with the world.
To the world, the season following Christmas is a stretch of ordinary time. Perhaps it is for the church as well. But it is a different kind of ordinary. In the bleak midwinter of our sin and suffering, God has shown us the new normal: living in the light of his presence without fear of being lost in darkness ever again. He is God with us, now and forever. He has glorified himself by assuming the frailness of humanity, and the darkness will not overcome his light.
In him was life, and the life was the light of men. The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it. — John 1:4-5
Andrew Russell graduated from Beeson Divinity School with a Master of Divinity in 2019. He currently serves at St. Peter's Anglican Church in Birmingham, Ala., as a transitional deacon and is seeking ordination to the priesthood in the Anglican Church in North America.