CHRISTMAS AND EPIPHANY
~ submitted by Clifton Flemister
The Christmas Season is the second of the seasons in the Church Year. It starts on December 25 (Christmas Day) with the Feast of the Nativity and lasts for 12 days, including two Sundays.
Christmas is a very happy time for Christians. It is the time Christ’s birth is celebrated. Among the seasons, Easter is the only one that is more important than Christmas.
While the celebration starts on December 25, there is no historical evidence that this is the true birthday of Jesus Christ. It is believed this date was chosen to replace the Roman feast of the Natalis Solis Invicti by the birth of the ‘Sun of Righteousness’. (See Malachi 4:2.) The observance spread throughout the Western church. In the Eastern Church, Christians celebrate Christ’s birth on January 6, which is the Feast of the Epiphany.
The first mention of Christmas was in the year AD 336. It is believed that it started as a religious celebration in the early part of that century.
The day is celebrated in the Roman Church by three masses, one at midnight, one at dawn and one at noon. The three masses symbolize the threefold birth of Christ, (1) eternally in the bosom of the Father, (2) from the womb of the Virgin Mary and (3) mystically in the soul of the faithful.
In the Episcopal Church, there is a mass on Christmas Eve, which marks the beginning of Christmas. Usually additional services take place on Christmas morning.
The celebrations have taken on the practice of giving gifts. Gift giving was symbolized, in Northern Europe, by ‘Father Christmas’ (or Saint Nicholas, or Santa Claus) bringing gifts to the children.
In addition, the Germans introduced evergreen trees as a major part of the celebration. They venerated evergreen trees as symbols of long life. They now became symbols of the eternal life Jesus gave us.
The Epiphany Season is the third season in the Church Year. It starts on January 6 (twelve days after Christmas) and lasts from 4 and 9 weeks. The length of the season is determined by when the Epiphany ends. The ending date is determined by the start of Easter, which is not a fixed date. The Epiphany ends the celebration of the birth of Christ and redirects our focus onto his ministry.
The Epiphany started in the Eastern Church as a celebration of the baptism of Christ and, to a lesser extent, his birth. It ranked, along with Easter and Pentecost, as one of the principle festivals of the Eastern Church.
The Epiphany started in the Western church in the 4th century to celebrate the arrival of the Wise Men (Magi) bearing gifts. The word Epiphany is Greek for manifestation. It means ‘showing forth’ or ‘revealing’. The Wise Men were showing forth the Christ Child by bringing him gifts for all to see. The Epiphany thus proclaims Jesus as the Savior of us all and prepares us for the proclamation that the Church is the means by which this message is brought to the whole world.
The Epiphany Season is a time for remembering that Jesus called disciples to help him and asked them to be ‘fishers of men.’ It is the time to rededicate ourselves to evangelism. We are to carry on Jesus’ ministry of teaching, healing and preaching.