The “Christmas cycle” of the Church calendar begins with Advent, looking for the arrival of Christ, continues into Christmastide, celebrating the arrival of Christ (particularly in his Jewish context), and culminates in the season after Epiphany, also known as Epiphanytide. Here in this season we are drawn to celebrate the manifestation of Christ to the Gentiles. Where Christmas is more geared toward recognizing Jesus as the long-awaited Savior foretold by the Prophets, Epiphanytide emphasizes the fact that Jesus is “the desire of nations” who is to be the King of all kings and Lord of all lords.
It began on January 6th, after the 12 days of Christmas, where the primary Bible text for the day is Matthew 2:1-12, the story of the wise men coming to worship the Christ child. From the stars (and probably from the hard work of Prophets like Ezekiel and Daniel in Babylon nearly 500 years earlier), these gentiles were led to recognize that Jesus was to be a king not only for the Jews but for everybody. From there on, there are several events in the life of Jesus that are celebrated as “epiphanies” – meaning, manifestations of his divine glory. After the arrival of the wise men, the next greatest epiphany story is the baptism of Jesus, traditionally celebrated on the Sunday immediately following Epiphany Day.
Other epiphany stories identified in the liturgy (either the Daily Office readings or in the Sunday Eucharist lectionary) are Jesus’ first miracle of turning water to wine at Cana, some of his healing and exorcisms, his transfiguration on the mountaintop, and his promised return at the end of the age.
The hymn Songs of thankfulness and praise captures many of these stories into its four verses, each time ending with the refrain, “Anthems be to thee addressed, God in man made manifest.” Indeed these various manifestations and revelations of Jesus to be truly God are causes for celebration that we should sing to God. But they are also considered from a missional angle. Jesus came into the world to save sinners. Jesus came into the world to draw all nations unto himself. That work of calling people is something he began, but gave the Holy Spirit to continue through us!
So as we continue through the Epiphany season, keep an eye on the Collects and readings, and note their outward-pointing direction. If you believe Jesus really is “God, in man, made manifest,” then how could you not tell others about him?