Many Protestant churches in recent years have more consistently marked the liturgical cycle of the church year, including such sacred occasions as Advent, Epiphany and Lent.
Take Epiphany, which was Sunday, Jan. 6, as an example.
While many churches tend to celebrate Advent and certainly Christmas, more are also now including important times such as Epiphany on their church calendar, says Phil de Haan, senior public relations specialist for the Calvin Institute of Christian Worship.
Indeed, churches in a range of denominations, including the Christian Reformed Church, held special worship services on Epiphany Sunday.
Many churches are marking these occasions because they have become aware of the value in observing holy days through various forms of worship, says de Haan.
Historically, this wasn’t always the case.
Emerging from the time of the Reformation, worship for many Christians focused almost entirely on the Bible and sermons and some music.
But now a growing number of churches are viewing the Christian year as a basic framework for organizing their common prayer and worship.
“They have attempted to recover the genius of the annual journey of telling this story of faith, while remembering that this framework is never an end in itself.” says John Witvliet, director of the worship institute.
Helping in this liturgical renewal is the Revised Common Lectionary, a text put together by representatives of several Protestant denominations that offers scripture readings to be used for worship on key occasions.
Along with this comes a richer understanding of the events such as Epiphany that are marked through worship and praise throughout the church year.
Epiphany occurs 12 days after Christmas and celebrates how Jesus brought a new light, beating back the darkness in the world.
Epiphany is “also a time when the church once again -- in the yearly cycle of sacred observances -- explores the ministry of Jesus between the manger and the cross,” writes Joan Huyser-Honig in an article for the Calvin Institute of Christian Worship website.
She adds: “Isaiah foretold how a light shining in the darkness would draw all nations to God. The wise men were Gentiles who offered gifts to the Christ child.”
The wise men were able to find Jesus by following a bright and unusual star in the heavens.
“Each cycle of Epiphany affirms that God’s light is for all nations—even if we, like Jonah when sent to Nineveh or Peter dreaming about clean and unclean animals, tend to think in us and them terms,” writes Huyser-Honig.
So, even as the Christmas lights and manger scenes are being taken down, worship planners turned their emphasis to coming observances, including Epiphany.
After that will be Lent, a season that begins in a few weeks with Ash Wednesday and leads up to Good Friday, followed by the joy and new life brought in by the resurrection.
Huyer-Honig’s article also features how churches today, especially missional churches, celebrate Epiphany as well as the history of and reasons for those celebrations.
Her article is posted as part of the Calvin Institute of Christian Worship's Epiphany Resource Guide.
Also posted in the resource guide are links to sample Epiphany and Lent services, as well as helpful articles from Reformed Worship, a quarterly CRC publication, and the Center For Excellence in Preaching at Calvin Theological Seminary.