(the Epiphany mural above was photographed by yours truly 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 January 5 this year to mark 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 signficant 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 Orthodox Christianity. In fact, a number of students and young adults from ACP who are from places like Russia, Romania and Greece, wait until January to give and receive their Christmas gifts. 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”, and as mentioned traditionally falls on January 6. 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. Eastern Christians commemorate the baptisms in the Jordan River, seen as his manifestation to the world as the Son of God. Many of the Eastern Churches follow a different calendar and so may observe this feast on January 19.
I rather enjoyed 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.
As I reflect back upon the story, part of the beauty for me is the journey of the magi. People in biblical times were accustomed to rather long and tiresome journeys. Hoping on a plane and traveling from Asia Minor to Bethlehem in 2 hours was not an option.
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 conclude 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?
Did they fully grasped what kind of Savior-King this would be?
Unlike some of our Christmas gifts, which I am sure were returned on “Boxing Day”, how much thought actually went into their gifts.
Did they really know that this baby would be a King unlike any other? Did they ever come to understand or know that his baby ould serve as God’s High Priest eternally, and would die on behalf of the human race.
Did they know this on their journey towards Nazareth?
Did they leave their visit with this knowledge?
I suppose we cannot know. But we do know that God spoke to them in amazingly clear and directive ways.
Is God speaking to you?
Might this new year be one of many “epiphanies”?
Are we prepared to hear the voice of God is 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 him on his own terms?
Dispersing the gloomy clouds of night, Putting dark shadows to flight, The Dayspring has come to cheer us. The Lord has come to be near us. Rejoice! Rejoice! Emmanuel has come to thee, O Israel!