The Twelfth Day of Christmas
The season of Epiphany begins this week -- the season of light. In the Eastern Orthodox church the day of Epiphany, January 6, is celebrated as Christmas day. We also know Epiphany as the Twelfth day of Christmas -- the day that all those Lords a-leaping, ladies dancing, swans a-swimming and partridges in pear trees are deposited on the front porch of someone's true love. Epiphany is the day the church has designated as the date of arrival of the wise men in Bethlehem after they had followed the star to the Christ child.
For us in the western church the Christmas season is pretty well over. We have packed away the wrapping paper and the decorations and stored the leftover cookies in the freezer.
But after the rush and busyness of first 25 days of December, the 12 days of Christmas that climax on the day of Epiphany can give us some quiet time to reflect on what the incarnation really means to us.
If you take apart the Greek word "epiphany" it means "to shine light upon." Phanos is the Greek word for "light" and epi means 'upon.' In English the meaning is captured beautifully in the expression "to dawn upon" -- as in "it suddenly dawned upon me" --as if the bright light of the sun suddenly rushed into a dark place and made everything clear. So epiphany also means 'a sudden understanding' or 'a new insight' and we describe those experiences as an epiphany.
The image of light shining into the darkness is a symbol that the biblical writers often used for the coming of Christ into the world. The Prophet Isaiah predicted that the darkness that shadowed the lives of the Hebrew people would be driven away by the coming of the Messiah: "The people who lived in darkness have seen a great light. Those who dwelt in a land of deep darkness on them has light shined." [9.2]
Hm! Maybe that strikes close to home in our own land even today. Our American life together seems to be deeply broken by divisions and anger and distrust. Anyone who follows the news may very well think that we dwell "in a land of deep darkness." And many people have experienced personal troubles in the past year -- financial troubles, relational troubles, spiritual troubles. Will God shine a new light on each of us -- on all of us - in this season of light?
John's Gospel speaks of the light coming into the darkness in words that exude power and meaning. "In the beginning was the Word and the Word was with God and the Word was God. ...In Him was life and the life was the light of the world. The light shines in the darkness and the darkness cannot overcome it. " Powerful words. Words of hope; words of comfort to all who feel darkness surrounding their souls and their lives.
The Word through whom the worlds were made took up his dwelling in a human mortal -- a person of flesh and bone as we are.
One of the prayers for Christmas day in the Roman Catholic liturgy speaks of the power of the incarnation: "O God, who marvelously created and yet more marvelously restored the dignity of human nature, grant that we may share the divinity of him who humbled himself to share our humanity."
If you are one who feels burdened down by trouble and sadness as we enter this new year, be comforted by the promise that even in the midst of darkness God is with us. Emanuel. In Christ our human nature was united with God, and when Jesus enters our hearts, he brings us into that union. God's love surrounds and upholds us throughout our lives, throughout all the joys and the sorrows that are a part of being human.
Beginning with the celebration of the day of Epiphany, may the light of Christ bring to you new insights into God's great love for you during each and every day of the year 2018.
Pastor Nancy Becker