The Epiphany of Our Lord: The Manifestation of Christ to the Gentiles.
Today is one of the high feasts of the Church year, and the “last act,” so to speak, of the Nativity Cycle. Christmastide, proper, ended last night on Twelfth Night; today begins Epiphanytide, the significance of which is explained below:
“The name of this Feast of our Lord is derived from a Greek word meaning manifestation or appearing. Historically, Anglican Prayer Books have interpreted the name with a subtitle, ‘The Manifestation of Christ to the Gentiles.’ The last phrase is, of course, a reference to the narrative of the Wise Men, the Magi, who appeared in Judaea from the East in order to worship the newborn King of the Jews.”
In the Western Church, including the Anglican tradition, the Wise Men are the major focus of this feast, and its accompanying season. But in the larger Christian tradition, Epiphany has a three-fold emphasis, and celebrates not only the visit of the Magi, but also Christ’s baptism by John the Baptist in the River Jordan, and his miracle at the Wedding in Cana, when he turned water into wine:
The Wise Men – who very likely were indeed Persian Magi – are sometimes referred to as “the Three Sacred Kings” (“Los Tres Santos Reyes,” in Spanish-speaking countries, where this is a very important feast), as in the favorite carol, “We Three Kings of Orient Are.” Neither their countries of origin or their number are known for certain; these were not details the Gospel writers thought important enough to record.
But they are typically portrayed as being three in number, and often of different ethnicities, to reflect the fact that Christ came for all peoples and all nations. Kings or Magi, three or many, and wherever they originated, these somewhat mysterious figures are witnesses that Christ’s birth was of universal, not merely local, significance. For which we should rejoice!
Here is the Biblical account:
“When Jesus was born in Bethlehem of Judæa, in the days of Herod the king, behold, there came wise men from the east to Jerusalem, saying, Where is he that is born King of the Jews? for we have seen his star in the east, and are come to worship him… When they had heard the king, they departed; and, lo, the star, which they saw in the east, went before them, till it came and stood over where the young child was. When they saw the star, they rejoiced with exceeding great joy. And when they were come into the house, they saw the young child with Mary his mother, and fell down, and worshipped him: and when they had opened their treasures, they presented unto him gifts; gold, and frankincense, and myrrh.”
— Matthew 2:1-2, 9-11 (KJV)
May everyone who reads this enjoy a holy and blessed Feast of the Epiphany, and an equally blessed Epiphanytide!