How the Story of Epiphany Informs my Faith
In the traditional Christian calendar, today, January 6, is the celebration of Epiphany.
Epiphany is the revealing of Jesus as the Son of God to people on earth. It comes upon the completion of the story of Jesus’ birth with the visit of the three magi from the East who honor the newly born Jesus with gifts and recognize Him as the true King of the Jews (Matthew 2:1-12). These three stand in for the whole world in recognizing Jesus’ unique place as Emmanuel, God with us.
The carol associated with Epiphany, “We Three Kings of Orient Are,” is probably my favorite song of the whole Christmas season. Since I was very young, I could feel the sway of the camels who carried the wise men day and night while they kept their eyes fixed on the star leading them ever onward to Jesus.
There is not a whole lot of agreement on who exactly these three foreigners were. The Greek of the New Testament is directly translated into English as, “Magi,” which can mean wise men, priests, astrologers, or dream interpreters. This makes them sound a bit mysterious and intimidating, like Albus Dumbledore from the Harry Potter book series, to me. By the Middle Ages, the magi had become kings and separate stories became attached to each one. What is agreed upon is that the magi, or kings, were definitely not Jews.
Despite the fact that the magi kings worshiped foreign gods, not the Creator of all and God of Israel, they were certainly better at seeking and honoring Jesus, our Redeemer, than Herod was. In the New Testament, they are the first of many people considered outside the tradition of Scripture (and often treated as an abomination by other believers) who turn out to be able to see and serve God among us better than those settled within the faith of the Hebrews.
So what is the primary point of the story of Epiphany?
I believe that it is this: Jesus reaches far beyond being the King of the Jews to being Sovereign over all the earth. Jesus is the Star, the perfect Light, for all people.
The prayer in the United Methodist Hymnal right by “We Three Kings” reflects this very well. Laurence Hull Stookey writes
You made of one blood all nations,
and, by a star in the East,
revealed to all peoples him whose name is Emmanuel.
Enable us who know your presence with us
so to proclaim his unsearchable riches
that all may come to his light
and bow before the brightness of his rising,
Who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit,
now and forever. Amen.
What do you think is the meaning of Epiphany?
Reverend Janet Edwards