“Behold, the Lord, the Ruler, hath come, and the kingdom and the power and the glory are in His hand.” The Epiphany season is about the manifestation (or “making known”) of the divine nature of Jesus. God, though before unseen and invisible, has appeared in human flesh. “Arise, shine, O Jerusalem, for the glory of the Lord is risen upon thee!”
O God, who by the leading of a star didst manifest Thine only-begotten Son to the Gentiles, mercifully grant that we, who know Thee now by faith, may after this life have the fruition of Thy glorious Godhead…
– Collect for Epiphany Day
Epiphany is closely related to the Feast of the Nativity (see The Church Year: Christmas). At times, the celebration of the birth of Christ, the appearance of the Magi, and the baptism of Jesus were all celebrated at once. These three separate events are all linked together in an important connection of the divinity and humanity of Jesus.
Epiphany is one of the oldest feasts of the church year, second only to Easter. An early church father named Clement of Alexandria calculated the date for Jesus’ birthday to be January 6. Eventually, the celebration of Jesus’ birth was fixed on December 25, and January 6 became the date for commemorating the Magi.
The Baptism of Our Lord is observed one week after the Epiphany, on January 13. Jesus said of His baptism, “It is fitting to fulfill all righteousness.” The Baptism of Jesus is an important event for every Christian. For in His baptism, Jesus takes the sin of the world upon Himself so that when you are baptized, Jesus’ perfection is placed on you.
THREE MYSTERIES OF THE EPIPHANY: There are three different themes historically associated with Epiphany and its season.
- The first is the visit of the Magi, where the infant of Bethlehem is revealed as the divine Son of God. All the kings of the nations worship the King of all Creation (St. Matthew 2.1-12).
- The second is the Baptism of Our Lord, commemorated on January 13. In this great event, Jesus is baptized by John the Baptizer in the Jordan. In this event, the true God and true Man, Jesus Christ, takes our sins upon Himself. In our Baptism, His righteousness is placed on us and our sins are buried with Him (St. Matthew 3.13-17).
- The third is the first miracle of Jesus, the changing of water into wine at the wedding at Cana, commemorated on the Second Sunday after the Epiphany. “This, the first of his signs, Jesus did at Cana in Galilee, and manifested his glory. And his disciples believed in Him” (St. John 2.1-11).
OTHER CEREMONIES: If a nativity scene is used, the Magi may be added to it on Epiphany. Reserving the placement of the Magi until Epiphany helps to separate the different themes of Christmas and Epiphany. It is also a custom to take down the Christmas tree and burn it following the Divine Service. Christmas decorations are left up until January 6 and then removed, since Epiphany marks the end of the Twelve Days of Christmas. Historically, following the Holy Gospel on Epiphany, an announcement was read concerning the upcoming movable dates of the Feast of the Resurrection and the like.
The hymnody of Epiphany varies because of the different themes of each Sunday. However, there are important hymns associated with this season.
The Hymn of the Day for Epiphany and Transfiguration is O Morning Star, How Fair and Bright (395). It connects the star leading the Magi to Jesus Christ as the true Morning Star (Revelation 22.16). It then expands on some of the themes that will be found later throughout the season. Its use both on Epiphany and Transfiguration helps to draw the themes of Epiphany together. Both the text and tune of this hymn are by Lutheran Pastor Philipp Nicolai.
Songs of Thankfulness and Praise (394) and The Star Proclaims the King Is Here (399) are two outstanding hymns that tie together the three mysteries of the Epiphany: the Magi, Jesus’ Baptism, and the wedding at Cana. The former is a nineteenth century English hymn, while the latter is a translation of an ancient Latin hymn by Coelius Sedulius.
Arise and Shine in Splendor (396) is a seventeenth-century German hymn based on the Old Testament for Epiphany, focusing on Christ’s Light.
The festival of the Transfiguration began to be celebrated in the sixth century. This account is when Jesus was transfigured and became bright as light before Peter, James, and John. Moses and Elijah appeared (St. Matthew 17.1-13).
In the medieval church, this feast was celebrated on August 6. Some of the Lutheran Reformers recognized that the theme of the divinity of Jesus of Epiphany would fit well with the Transfiguration, and so they began to place it on the last Sunday after the Epiphany. Because the number of Sundays after the Epiphany varies, it becomes necessary to skip ahead to Transfiguration when the last Sunday after Epiphany arrives.
In addition to the Hymn of the Day, O Morning Star, How Fair and Bright (see “Hymnody”), there are several hymns appropriate to the Feast of the Transfiguration.
O Wondrous Type! O Vision Fair (413) is a triumphant English hymn from the fifteenth century that recounts the story of the Transfiguration. Jesus on the Mountain Peak (415) is a modern hymn on the events of the Transfiguration.
Alleluia, Song of Gladness (417) is a medieval Latin hymn that commemorates the end of the use of “Alleluia.” Transfiguration is the last day that “Alleluia” is used before Easter, as it is set aside during Lent. This hymn is appropriately used on Transfiguration to highlight this liturgical event.
Calendar: January 6 and the following two to six weeks
Theme: Jesus’ Divinity and Glory; Missions
Color: White for Epiphany Day and
Green for Epiphany Season
White is the color associated with the festivals of Christ. It indicates purity and wholeness.