After all the hustle and bustle of Thanksgiving, Advent, and Christmas, it can be easy to overlook the many gifts the Epiphany season brings, but I believe overlooking them is to our detriment. The Epiphany season has such potential for leading us into profound spiritual growth, but it is also a season that must be handled with care, especially for the youngest among us.
So, first things first—what is Epiphany? The holiday has much the same meaning as the word does when it appears in general usage—it’s a sudden appearance of something extraordinary. In the case of the church, the season of Epiphany is a time where we focus on how Jesus meets people and communities in need of him where they are and changes everything.
Throughout the season of Epiphany, we also find an emphasis on the metaphor of Jesus being the light of the world that comes into it to cast away the darkness of sin and death. As a Black woman in the church, it is hard to hear week after week how things that are light or white represent holiness, purity, and salvation, while things that are dark or black represent sin, death, and destruction. It is harder still when I think about the children in the church and how, by the time they are three years old, most children in the U.S. have already begun to pick up on this dualism and apply it to human beings. I have had the experience more than once of Black and Brown children telling me that the baby Jesus in the Christmas pageant needed to be white, because God couldn’t possibly look like them.
So what are we to do? We know that constant emphasis on light vs. dark is damaging to our psyches and communities, but we also know that the Bible readings assigned in this season do just that. First, we can choose other metaphors in the elements of the service and our own conversations that we have control over. And we can celebrate both the light and the dark that we encounter in scripture—the light of a new dawn into which Christ emerges, and the darkness of the womb that carried him.
We can also be about the work of teaching each other, especially our young people, about the fact that race is a very modern concept, one that the biblical authors would not have understood. When they write about light and dark, white and black, it has nothing to do with assigning value to what people looked like. (In fact, the only physical description of the long-awaited savior in scripture says that he will have skin the color of bronze and woolen hair.) When the language of light/dark, white/black appears in our texts, we have a duty to acknowledge that it means something different in our own contexts, and to face it head-on.
As the excitement and joy of the Christmas season fade, Epiphany invites us to intentionally curate spaces of quiet and peace so we can step away from a simplistic narrative about light and dark and hear what new epiphanies God is sending our way.