An ominous warning that a “war on Christmas” was being waged by those who wanted to remove the distinctive Christian focus of the holiday accompanied our annual holiday season not long ago.

The phrase seems to have come from John Gibson 2006’s book The War on Christmas – How the Liberal Plot to Ban the Sacred Christian Holiday Is Worse than You Thought.

Subsequent trends to broaden the spirit of the season by generalizing its expressions (“Happy Holidays” rather than “Merry Christmas”) were seen to be volleys in this war; and, as expected, defenses were rallied.

Some businesses proudly proclaimed, “We still say, “Merry Christmas,’” while others embraced the sensitivity of broadened expression.

Still, the “war on Christmas” held traction for a while among those who feared a loss of the dominance of certain features of their tradition.

Like most culture war skirmishes, this one seems to be fading in the light of newer issues that have fresh appeal, and for that we can be thankful.

The approach of the 12th day of Christmas in this particular season of our common life, with some of the challenges of the past year, has prompted me to wonder if we might be experiencing something of a war on Epiphany.

Epiphany is traditionally associated with Matthew’s account of the visit of the magi to Bethlehem.

Its symbolism of the light of a distant star, its illumination of a new horizon of the incarnation, and the drama of this new insight and its encounter with entrenched power (Herod) add a particular depth to what will become the Christian narrative.

Epiphany (literally, “shining light upon”) emphasizes enlightenment outside the expected boundaries of discovery – insight that transforms and expands the horizons of accepted truths as a new foundation for community whose history and parts are intertwined and woven into the fabric of a new future.

In Matthew’s masterful painting of his Gospel portrait, the connection of the Christ event with the deeply rooted covenant faith of Israel and with an expanded horizon beyond Judaism is captured in the core piece of the Epiphany dialogue: “Where is he who is born king of the Jews? We have seen his star in the East, and we have come to worship him” (Matthew 2:2).

Foreign eyes have seen something that closer eyes have not yet seen, and that insight seeks community with those who share that vision, even when it has been limited by their particular expectation.

Epiphany is the celebration of expanding horizons, deeper insights and more accurate understandings than limited vantage points can provide. It occurs when new light is brought to some aspect of life to illuminate levels of truth that were previously not as clear.

It is hard to imagine a more appropriate celebration of the possibilities opened up by the disclosure of incarnation’s Christmas. And yet, we find ourselves in this Christmas/Epiphany season surrounded by hostilities toward the expanding of horizons and the deepening of understandings.

Writers and teachers who seek to clarify features of our common life that have been neglected by dominant forces are decried as “woke.” Books that explore dimensions of our shared experience are “ban-listed” for their tendency to create discomfort in their revelations of parts of history that are not favorable to a privileged group.

“Telling the truth” is limited to what is acceptable to a given perspective. Education that seeks to develop critical thinking is demonized as indoctrination.

Favorite targets of this hostility are such studies as “The 1619 Project,” whose careful examination of the place of slavery in the foundations and development of the nation shines new light on a neglected part of U.S. history.

Another battle cry is “Critical Race Theory,” which examines the extent of the racism infused into the economic, political and education systems of our society.

Beyond that, the resistance and dismissal of the results of investigations into political corruption and misbehavior of public officials is also a refusal to allow new light to transform understandings that are rigidly held.

If Epiphany is an invitation to respond as did the magi to the light of a new disclosure of truth, then the aggressive resistance to such light and its transformation of understandings might well be a war on Epiphany.

Maybe it’s time for another book: The War on Epiphany – How the Right-Wing Plot to Ban the Embrace of the Light of the World Is Worse Than You Thought.

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