January 2010 – Rector’s Ruminations
Last month I offered some thoughts and observations concerning the season of Advent. As we now come to the end of Christmastide and anticipate the Epiphany, January sixth, and the six Sundays that comprise the season after Epiphany, I thought it might be helpful to offer information regarding these two seasons of the Church year.
Christmas or Christ’s Mass is the festival of the Incarnation of the Word of God in the birth of Jesus the Christ. In the Book of Common Prayer, it is referred to as “The Nativity of our Lord Jesus Christ.” As best we can tell, Christmas was first celebrated in Rome in the year 336. Celebrating the birth of our Savior over three hundred years after the event may come as a surprise to some given the importance of the Nativity. Further exploration helps us to understand why this was the case.
The date, December 25th rests on no historical foundation. It was probably selected to oppose the feast, Natalis Solis Invicti, the birth date of the “Unconquerable Sun God” (Saturn) celebrated at the winter solstice to commemorate the birth of “The Sun of Righteousness.” From the year 336, Christmas gradually spread to the churches of the East, which already had a festival on January sixth, The Epiphany, commemorating the manifestation (epiphany) of God in both the birth and baptism of Jesus.
Several customs have grown up around Christmas to include decorating houses with greenery, giving of gifts to children and the poor, the Yule log, decorated fir trees, fires and lights (symbols of warmth and lasting life) evergreens (symbols of survival) to name but a few. For many churches, ours included, the season includes a form for a station at a Christmas Crèche and a liturgy for a Christmas Festival of Lessons and Carols.
The Epiphany is the manifestation of Christ to all the peoples of the earth. The season incorporates the various manifestations, epiphanies or showings of Christ’s divinity to include his birth, the coming of the Magi (symbolic of gentiles), his baptism, and the wedding at Cana where he changed water into wine. In short, celebration of the Son of God replaced the celebration of the Sun. While the Western Church commemorated the birth of Jesus on December 25th, the Eastern Church commemorated the baptism and nativity of Jesus on the Epiphany or Festival of Theophania.
In moving from the feast of The Nativity to the feast of The Epiphany, it is my hope and prayer that each of us will be a manifestation of God’s love for all creation in the Christmas and Epiphany gift of his son Jesus.
By Bishop Craig B. Anderson