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Calendar muddles

While Epiphany is one of the seven principal feasts in our calendar (as ordered by the Book of Alternative Services), there may be even more confusion about when and how it’s celebrated than any other feast!

The BAS gives some rules about when the feast can be celebrated—permitting us to observe Epiphany on the Sunday before January 6th if the 6th falls on a weekday, as it did this year. We’re also given some choice—if, as in this year, the Sunday before is January 1st, we can keep either Epiphany or the Naming of Jesus. The only clear proviso is that the Sunday after January 6th “is always observed as the feast of the Baptism of Christ.”

There’s a lot of variety from parish to parish. Some communities celebrated the Epiphany on January 1st. Some kept the feast on January 6th. And some did it on January 8th.

There are pros and cons to each of these possible decisions, and any number of factors that weigh upon those making the decision about when and how to celebrate: attendance, teaching, the rhythm of the year, traditions, and more.

The community that I serve has tried different options over the years. Most often, we’ve celebrated Epiphany midweek on January 6th. And though this factor may seem relatively small to some, that’s made it hard for the decorating committee: when should the decorations be taken down? What does that mean for when the figures of Magi should arrive at the crèche? These details matter deeply to some people in this community.

This year, we tried something new. With permission from our bishop, on January 8th we kept three moments at once: the Epiphany of Our Lord, the Presentation of our Lord in the Temple, and the Baptism of Our Lord. Each feast is about Jesus being made known to the world—theophany, to use the fancy word for God showing forth God’s self—and fit together in a neat way. The calendar’s date for the Presentation is February 2nd, and the feast commemorates Mary and Joseph taking him to the temple forty days after his birth. And yet, that date always feels a bit odd—we’ve celebrated his baptism as an adult, and we’ve been hearing about his ministry the past several Sundays, so it’s a weird thing to jump back to Jesus as an infant.

We read the Gospel passage appointed for Epiphany (Matthew 2.1—12), and we brought the figures to the crèche. We gave thanks for the gifts they brought, and offered a prayer at each one, making sense of what those gifts mean in our lives. Then we read the Gospel of the Presentation (Luke 2.22—40). We lit tapers, and prayed a responsory about delighting in God’s light shining forth for all people, and letting it shine in us. And then we read the Gospel for the Baptism of our Lord in year A (Matthew 3.13—17), renewed our baptismal covenant, and shared in aspersion (sprinkling) from the water in the font.

It’s not a perfect solution, but it worked for us. What I’ve found most interesting since Sunday has been hearing from the people I serve about how they experienced this service—how it brought Christmas to a conclusion that makes sense and sends us out into the mission God gives to us.

What works where you are? What are you wondering about trying, to let these feasts that reveal God in our midst live for us in deep ways?

Matthew Griffin

About Matthew Griffin

I'm a priest serving in the Diocese of Niagara, with both a pastoral and an academic interest in the relationship between liturgy and theology. I enjoy reading, cooking, and spending time with my beloved and our young son.
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2 Responses to Calendar muddles

  1. Wow. It truly sounds like you had a thoughtful way of remembering key times when Jesus revealed Himself to the world. Understanding how the gifts are represented in our lives, focusing on His light in the world and what baptism means. It sounds like you all participated in some of the reality of each of those events. Thanks for sharing.

  2. We have a New Year’s Eve / Watch Night service at our church, and I’ve often celebrated the Naming of Jesus then. But after preaching that several years in a row, I was wanting to do something different.

    The lectionary advice to celebrate Epiphany on Jan. 1 led me to my decision. We kept the Feast of the Holy Innocents on New Year’s Eve (which felt appropriate after what was a hard and tragic year for many people) and Epiphany on New Year’s Day. Two halves of the same story, essentially, though in the wrong order!

    (Another example of a calendar muddle, as Holy Innocents is the 2nd half of the Epiphany Gospel reading, but is meant to be kept on Dec. 29, more than a week before Epiphany on Jan. 6!)

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