Epiphany -- Festival of Light and Understanding

An Informal Epiphany Celebration

For many, the Festival of Epiphany is perhaps the least observed celebration of the church year. Immediately following Advent and Christmas, it is often lost in the post-holiday preoccupation with restoring order, paying bills, and getting back to work. In the midst of "getting things back to normal," celebrating this festival may enrich the good news of Christ that we anticipated in Advent and celebrated at Christmas. The meaning of "epiphany" is "manifestation"; it may also mean "a new understanding." When the Magi approached the child Jesus, new understandings came to them and to all about who Christ would be a messiah for the entire world. This service builds on such concepts of new understanding. Epiphany is an excellent opportunity to capture the profound and fresh understandings that follow the spiritual emphases of Advent and Christmas and the beginning of a new calendar year. This informal worship experience gathers persons together to reveal new understandings in light of God made manifest in Jesus Christ.

How to Prepare for the Celebration

Although elements of this liturgy may be used in a more-traditional sanctuary-worship service, this informal evening service is best offered with participants gathered in a circle of chairs, perhaps in a parlor or fellowship hall. The mood should be casual—not somber but cozy. Turn off harsh overhead lights and fill the room with ample light from table lamps and candles. On the floor, in the center of the circle, create an altar space utilizing your own creativity. If you lit a Christ candle on Christmas Eve, put it in the center of the room. Include two large bowls in the arrangement: one filled with water and one empty.

Participants are asked in advance to bring three items: 1) a candle in a candlestick holder; 2) a handful of grass or weeds from their lawn (perhaps stored in a plastic sandwich bag until used); 3) some advance reflection about a significant epiphany, an "aha" moment, or time of self-discovery that has taken place within the past few days, weeks, or years. The organizer of the service should have some extra grass and candles for those who arrive empty handed.

Service Suggestions

Gathering and Invocation

One: Let us begin our time together in prayer.

People: God of constant surprise, you enter our world in silence but delight and disturb us in so many varied ways. You invigorate us when we are lulled into boredom. You call us to new places when our lives have grown stale and predictable. Tonight as we share this Epiphany celebration, may your light of discovery shine brightly within each of us—casting away shadows and enabling us to see ourselves anew, to confess what we have never honestly acknowledged before, to be transformed by the love of this circle, and to fully receive your spirit of new beginnings. Amen.

Sharing Names and Joining the Circle

One (read or state the following in your own words): Epiphany is not the thirteenth day of Christmas but a special time in itself, a festival of light and meaning. On this night in many countries, children leave bowls filled with grass and water on their doorsteps as a gesture of love for the camels of the Magi. On this night we remember the journey of these Wise Ones who followed the Eastern star in search of the Christ child. For millions of Christians, especially in Central and South America and Europe, this is the night when gifts are exchanged with family and friends. As we begin our journey tonight, each of you is invited to individually offer your name and to add your gift of grass for the camels that will pass by our church doors later this evening. If you would like, share briefly what you think or feel when you hear the word "epiphany."

(Allow time for sharing names, placing the offering of grass into the empty bowl, and offering a brief reflection on the word. Resist the temptation to "go around the circle" but allow people to speak as they feel led.)

Hymn "Brightest and Best" TNCH 156 or 157

Reading from the Gospel Matthew 2:1–12

A Prayer for Understanding

Reader 1: In my times of greatest self-doubt, whenever I torment myself...

People: God, grant me new understanding.

Reader 2: Whenever my mistakes loom large, or the future seems bleak...

People: God, grant me new understanding.

Reader 3: Whenever my ego ignores reason, when immediacy dictates my every decision...

People: God, grant me new understanding.

Reader 4: Wherever I am patient with injustice, when I look to others to do the work that is mine...

People: God, grant me new understanding.

Reader 5: Whenever I deny the worth of others or ignore my worth to God...

People: God, grant me new understanding.

Reader 6: Whenever I allow stereotypes to shape my beliefs, or allow my ignorance to cause harm to others...

People: God, grant me new understanding.

Reader 7: Whenever, overwhelmed and frustrated, I say nothing can be done because the problem seems too big for me alone...

People: God, grant me new understanding.

Reader 8: Whenever I lack the courage to change my direction or participate in creating new life around me...

People: God, grant me new understanding.

Reader 9: Whenever I rush to judgment, whenever I value law over grace...

People: God, grant me new understanding to honor what is true, to value myself while trusting others, and to always place my hope in you. Amen.

Hymn "As with Gladness Those of Old" TNCH 159

Sharing Light and Stories

One (read or state in own words the following):

The Festival of Epiphany is not only marked by a single historical event but also by a series of events tied together by a theme. "Epiphany" means "new understanding," and the biblical stories associated with Epiphany and the season that follows share a common "aha" quality. The passages include the epiphany of the Magi who come to know the significance of the Messiah’s birth, the epiphany of Jesus who embraces his baptism and his life’s unique identity and mission, the epiphany of John the Baptist who identifies Jesus as the Lamb of God, and the epiphany of the first disciples who leave behind the familiar to explore the radically new. These are all significant personal events of powerful discovery, self-realization, and transformation.

After a moment of silent reflection, I invite each of you to share one of your own epiphany stories, to offer a reflection on a memorable time of growth and discovery. Perhaps there was a time when you realized that you could no longer keep quiet in the face of injustice. Perhaps there was a watershed moment that moved your life in a whole new direction altogether. Maybe there was a period of time when everything seemed to come together for you, or possibly there was a person who significantly altered your understandings. Your story can be poignant or humorous, simple or profound. This is not a contest, but an offering from our lived experience.

As you begin to share your own epiphany, I also invite you to light your candle and place it in the center of our circle B as a symbol of God’s light that constantly lures us to new places of discovery.

(Allow time for sharing of epiphany stories. Allow persons to speak as they are led, not in a predetermined order. Respect the silence that will naturally occur.)

Hymn "Many are the Lightbeams" TNCH 163

(First verse—solo; others join in remaining verses)


(Before the benediction, decide who will place the bowls of grass and water on the doorsteps of the church as an offering of friendship for the camels of the Magi.)

One: Epiphany God, with you every day is an opportunity for new direction.

People: May our offerings expressed this night move us to love ourselves more deeply, to honor each other more reverently, and to trust you as the source of every new beginning. May your light continue to guide us, and may every journey be an opportunity for seeking, revealing, turning, and forgiving. Amen.

One: The peace of Christ be with you.

People: And also with you.

(The people greet each other with a sign of reconciliation and peace, such as a handshake or embrace, saying similar words to those of above.)

This liturgy was written by the J. Bennett Guess, minister for communication and mission education, Justice and Witness Ministries: A Covenanted Ministry of the United Church of Christ. For more information about this Festival of Epiphany, contact Guess at guessb@ucc.org; by phone at 216.736.3704; or at 700 Prospect Avenue East, Cleveland, Ohio, 44115-1100. For more information about the church year and worship, contact Sidney D. Fowler at fowlers@ucc.org.

Copyright 2002 Justice and Witness Ministries, United Church of Christ, Cleveland, Ohio. Permission is granted to reproduce or adapt this material for use in services of worship or church education. All publishing rights reserved. Designed and printed by United Church Resources, Local Church Ministries.


Rev. Susan A. Blain
Minister for Worship, Liturgy and Spiritual Formation
700 Prospect Ave.
Cleveland, Ohio 44115