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04 January 2019

Epiphany: When Jesus was revealed to the world.

The holiday which grew into Christmas.

Epiphany (in some churches it’s called Theophany) falls on 6 January. Well, unless your church still follows the Julian calendar, in which case it’s gonna wind up on 19 January. It comes right after the last day of Christmas. In fact Christmas is celebrated on 25 December because of Epiphany.

See, Epiphany celebrates how Jesus was revealed to the world. True, the Christmas stories figure that was with the angels and sheep-herders, and maybe with the magi. But technically he was revealed at the beginning of his ministry, at his baptism, where John the baptist identified him as God’s son.

John 1.29-34 KWL
29 The next day John saw Jesus coming to him.
He said, “Look: God’s ram, taking up the world’s sin! 30 This is the one I spoke of!
‘The one coming after me has got in front of me’—because he’s first over me. Jn 1.15
31 And I hadn’t seen him! But I came baptizing in water so he’d be revealed to Israel.”
32 John testified, saying this: “I’ve seen the Spirit,
descending like a pigeon from the sky, and staying on him.
33 And I hadn’t seen him, but he who sent me to baptize in water
yes, him—told me, “On whomever you see the Spirit come down and stay on,
that’s who baptizes with the Holy Spirit.’
34 And I’ve seen. I testify: This is God’s son.”

The third-century Christians began to celebrate Jesus’s baptism in January. Why January? Historians’ best guess is the early churches divided up the gospels into a year’s worth of readings, and if you start with Mark, you get to the baptism story in the second week of the year. So it wasn’t ’cause anybody knew the date of the baptism; it’s just the date they read the baptism story.

Since Jesus was also sorta revealed as God incarnate at his annunciation, Epiphany celebrations began to include his birth stories. Till the early Christians realized Jesus’s birth needed its own celebration. Thus the 12 days before Epiphany evolved into the separate celebration of Christmas.

Yep, that’s how it happened. I know; pagans like to claim we Christians took over all the pagan winter solstice festivals, and shoehorned Jesus’s birthday into that. Didn’t work like that. Any Christian can tell you: We don’t swipe pagan holidays. We swipe Jewish ones.

We still don’t know when Jesus was born, or baptized… and it doesn’t matter, right? We just need a day or two to celebrate. Or 12. And for the longest time Epiphany also lasted several days. Usually eight.

Epiphany also marks the end of Christmastime. Bummer.