(the Epiphany mural above was personally photographed by the author at the Saint-Etienne-du-Mont in Paris)
I must confess that before I moved to Paris to work at The American Church, I did not know what Epiphany was, so if you find yourself wondering the same question…no worries!
In the liturgical worship of the Christian calendar, Epiphany is celebrated on Wednesday January 6 this year with Epiphany Sunday on January 10th. This celebration marks the arrival of the wise men or “magi” to worship the infant Christ. Of course we do not know how many of them came to visit Jesus, but we do know that at least three significant and symbolic gifts were presented. We also do not know when precisely they arrived, but most scholars maintain it was probably a few months (or even up to two years) after the birth of Christ. Either way, it is important to celebrate their arrival of these first Gentiles to worship the Savior of the nations.
Epiphany also concludes the 12 Days of Christmas, which contrary to some, is the 12 days of giving gifts after Christmas, not before. Epiphany is celebrated among liturgical denominations and specifically within Orthodox Christianity. In fact, many of my friends both in France and here in Greenwich who are originally from places like Russia, Romania, Ukraine and Greece, wait until January to give and receive their Christmas gifts. The season of Epiphany also marks the end of Christmastide and when the decorations are stored and festivities conclude, thus ushering in a new season of preparation for Lent.
The actual word Epiphany can be translated “manifestation”, “striking appearance” or “vision of God”. It is a Christian feast day that celebrates the revelation of God the Son as a human being in the person of Jesus Christ. Western Christians commemorate principally (but not solely) the visitation of the magi to the baby Jesus, and thus Jesus’ physical manifestation to the Gentiles.
I rather enjoy rethinking my normal Christmas traditions and assumptions and appreciate the continuation of the season and spirit into January. I was always one who wanted to keep up decorations at least through New Year’s day, but now I actually have a theological reason to do so!
Concerning the magi, we do not know much about their story (background, beliefs, or future faith journey), but we know that they were guided and lead by light. They responded in faith with what they had. a vision. a desire. a star. hope.
Many of us are on a similar journey. We do not know where it will end up but we hope to encounter the Christ along the way.
I wonder what they were thinking during the day, week, and months of their pilgrimage. These individuals were scholars, astrologers, and cosmologists. They were intelligent, observant, and rational people I assume. They were men of science…and faith it appears and God revealed himself to them in means they could understand and interpret.
A reasonable conclusion from this story is that God worked, and works, in mysterious ways and we should not limited God to work only within traditional “religious” or even “Christian” parameters.
Many questions come to mind looking back upon this fascinating story
What the magi were hoping to find?
How much of God’s story did they know or understand?
I suppose we cannot know. But we do know that God spoke to them in amazingly clear and directive ways and we may do well this season to ask if God is speaking to us?
Are we prepared to see divine signs of God’s guiding and direction in strange and unusual ways?
May we be open and ready to discover God, not only through these miraculous manifestations but also in the commonplace; arts, conversations, culture, and sciences.
It has become clear to me that God desires to be discovered in all, and through all things. He is a self-revealing God, and we should not box God in by our own expectations and limitations. God will come to us. The question is…we will let God do so?