January 7, 2019

Framing Epiphany in Worship Planning

Epiphany might not be on every congregation’s calendar. But perhaps some simple frames can enable worship leaders and worshipers—veteran and novice—to add it to theirs.

Our calendars fill with special days. We circle them on our datebook or diary. We set annual reminders on our cell phones. We want to remember birthdays and anniversaries. We love to celebrate New Year’s and Valentine’s, Martin Luther King Jr. and Canada Day, Fourth of July and Thanksgiving. Or maybe our birth country taught us to celebrate Cinco de Mayo, May Day, or Boxing Day.

Christians famously celebrate Christmas and Easter. But those who embrace the liturgical year are invited to enter a particular rhythm of sacred time, a rich calendar of holy days that includes Epiphany and Good Friday, the Transfiguration and Trinity Sunday, Pentecost and Christ the King.

The season of Epiphany is less familiar than others church seasons. Many congregations celebrate Advent, something inside us wants to prepare for Christmas. And some traverse the season of Lent—the legacy of fasting and Fish on Fridays still echoes in mainstream culture. But Epiphany?

How might a worship leader introduce the season of Epiphany, the weeks between Christmas and Lent that accent the life and ministry of Jesus? Over the years, as our congregation has more fully embraced the entire liturgical year, we introduced Epiphany through simple framing words. (For an introduction to worship frames see this article at the CICW website.) Might such frames be helpful in your context? Consider this:

In the season of Epiphany, we celebrate and remember Jesus as the light. We explore what he does and what he says. With the Magi who followed the star, we remember Jesus is the light of the world.

It’s simple, I know, but we’ve found a concise frame can help attendees more deeply understand a reading, a song, or a call to confession. We’ve found that each season of the church year needs reinforcement. It’s a new idea to many. So, if a preacher uses a similar frame to reinforce or highlight the season in her sermon each week that will not only connect worship and preaching, but reinforce understanding about the liturgical calendar. Consider another frame:

For generations, after celebrating the twelve days of Christmas, followers of Jesus spend time considering Jesus’ life. It’s a season the church throughout the world calls “Epiphany.” It starts with two events: the Magi visiting baby Jesus: representing the entire world coming to Jesus the light. And Jesus’ baptism: when he hears his father say, “This is my son whom I love, listen to him.”

That frame aims to simply and elegantly introduce the idea to spiritual and liturgical novices. Here’s another frame, inspired by the great preacher Fred Craddock. It, too, is very simple, but its simplicity may be just what a particular service needs:

During Epiphany, the whisper in Bethlehem becomes a shout heard round the world.

Here is a frame we used last year:

We are in the season of the year the church calls, Epiphany. In Epiphany, we celebrate and remember Jesus as “the light.” We reflect on his life and teaching, his healing and mission. And we learn that his light begins with us, in our lives and homes, and then spreads throughout the world.

Or maybe you want to introduce Epiphany in a frame that introduces an offering:

In this season of Epiphany we remember the Magi who crossed cultural, ethnic, and religious boundaries to worship Jesus as king. In the spirit of the Magi, we now offer our own gifts to the newborn king.

Epiphany might not be on every congregation’s calendar. It is far less known than Easter and Christmas. But perhaps some simple frames can enable worship leaders and worshipers—veteran and novice—to add it to theirs.

(Note: This blog is based on excerpts from an upcoming book by the author tentatively titled Framing Worship for Mission. For another blog on this subject read:

Kevin Adams is the author of Living Under Water: Baptism as a Way of Life150: Finding Your Story in the PsalmsThe Book That Understands You, and The Gospel in a Handshake: Framing Worship for Mission. In 1991 Kevin and his wife Gerry began Granite Springs Church, a congregation that has helped inspire a movement of church planting in the Sacramento area. He was Director of Formation at the Newbigin House of Studies in San Francisco, and has taught at Calvin SeminaryWestern Seminary, and William Jessup University. Besides serving as senior pastor, he is writing a book about living our baptism. Kevin is fascinated and intrigued by how worship forms and shapes individuals and contagious communities of faith. His special interests are in the missional depth and wisdom of the psalms, sacraments, and preaching.