It is really cold in my apartment. The wind outside is blowing against the building at 22 miles per hour, and it is -9 degrees Fahrenheit out there. Doors are frozen shut all around town. When I walked outside for just a few minutes, my eyes watered from the stinging and my tears nearly froze (or maybe they did, and I didn’t notice).
Did I mention that there are two in-wall air conditioning units in the apartment with no insulation or weather sealant around them? So all of that frigid air is blowing right into my apartment, causing my heater, already set low, to constantly kick on and off. It is bitterly, bitterly cold out there, and none-too-comfortable in here. Not a very hospitable environment.
It is also Epiphany, the Christian festival that, in most places, marks the end of the Christmas season which began on December 25 (contrary to popular culture, which begins the Christmas season in September and ends it midnight on December 26). Epiphany celebrates God made manifest to the whole world through the incarnation of Jesus, the Christ. In the Western tradition, the primary story is the visit of the Magi to the toddler Jesus at his parents’ home to acknowledge him as king and lord, while in the Eastern tradition, the primary story is the baptism of Jesus by John at the Jordan River, when Jesus is declared Son of God. For both, the point is God being made known through Christ.¹
Epiphany is also celebrated as a festival of light. The Old Testament reading for the day, Isaiah 60:1-6, sings, “Arise, shine; for your light has come, and the glory of the LORD has risen upon you.” The early Christians heard these words and through them saw the reason Jesus came–to be a light in the darkness. Ancient people, and we still, use the image of darkness as a metaphor for evil, ignorance, and terror; and we use light as a metaphor for goodness, understanding, and peace.
Early January in the northern hemisphere is a dark, dark time. Though the Winter Solstice has passed and the days are actually getting longer, it’s hard to tell. Darkness and cold blind and chill to the bone. The fears and evils around us are literally made manifest through our environment. When it is this dark, even a single Christmas light can be a blessing, and a small space heater under the desk a welcome gift. The littlest light and the littlest warmth can make all the difference in the world.
Epiphany, day of light, day of realization and manifestation, is about making a difference in a cold, dark world. Through Christ, we know the presence of God in a way that nobody else knows–intimately. Through Christ, we become little lights and little warmths, breaking the darknesses and chills that plague the world around us.
Tonight, I’ll be taking down my Christmas lights and decorations (the space heater will be staying on, however!). In their place, I have to be the light. It’s just as an favorite hymn says: “Arise, your light has come! The Spirit’s call obey; / show forth the glory of your God which shines on you today.”²
1. Gail Ramshaw and Mons Teig, eds, Keeping Time: The Church’s Years, Vol. 3 of Using Evangelical Lutheran Worship (Minneapolis, MN: Augsburg Fortress, 2009).
2. Ruth Duck, “Arise, Your Light Has Come!”, Evangelical Lutheran Worship (Minneapolis, MN: Augsburg Fortress, 2006).