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Epiphany, and Epiphanies About "The Work of Christmas"

I don’t know about you, but this week -- the first full week of January -- is always a bit of a shock to the system, after all the preparations for Christmas and the Christmas celebrations themselves, a short break, then BAM! all of a sudden it’s New Year’s, and all the things that I put off until “after Christmas” are suddenly staring me in the face.

No putting it off any longer.

Today IS officially the last day of Christmas. Today, January 6, is the Twelfth Day of Christmas, the day of the Epiphany.


The word “epiphany” means two things, and both meanings can be helpful to us this time of year.

When “Epiphany” is capitalized, its meaning is a religious holy day, the manifestation or “showing” of Christ to the wider world. It’s the day we commemorate the magi, or wise men, coming from the East and bowing down before the baby Jesus and offering them their gifts.

The more common use of the word “epiphany,” however, is when we say we’ve “had an epiphany,” meaning a kind of “ah-HA! moment,” a sudden insight, or a coming together of a bunch of different thoughts in a new way.

There’s a wonderful poem -- an old favorite of mine that someone reminded me of this week -- that’s written by the African-American preacher Howard Thurman, called “The Work of Christmas.”

It pulls together the two meanings of the word “epiphany,” and does a good job of putting this time of year in perspective:

“When the song of the angels is stilled,
When the star in the sky is gone,
When the kings and princes are home,
When the shepherds are back with their flock,
The work of Christmas begins:
To find the lost,
To heal the broken,
To feed the hungry,
To release the prisoner,
To rebuild the nations,
To bring peace among others,
To make music in the heart.”

That’s a healthy way to look at all the crazy-busy pace of the new year: Christmas is over, but now we’re invited to a season of “Epiphany” and epiphanies.

We’re being asked to do the work of Christmas, which was Jesus’ work: to find, heal, feed, release, rebuild, bring peace, make music.

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