What is Epiphany and why does it matter?
The season of joyful celebration that begins at Christmas now continues through the successive Sundays of Epiphany, and the festal cycle ends only with the Feast of the Presentation (Candlemas).
The Epiphany – 6 January
The Baptism of Christ – The First Sunday of Epiphany
(The Second Sunday of Epiphany when 6 January is a Sunday)
The Second Sunday of Epiphany
The Third Sunday of Epiphany
The Fourth Sunday of Epiphany
The Presentation of Christ in the Temple (Candlemas) – 2 February
The child who has been manifested to the magi at his birth is now recognized by Simeon and Anna, when he comes to be presented in the Temple according to the Law of Israel. He is both ‘a light to lighten the Gentiles’ and ‘the glory of God’s people Israel’. But the redemption he will bring must be won through suffering; the Incarnation is directed to the Passion; and Simeon’s final words move our attention away from the celebration of Christmas and towards the mysteries of Easter.
In the Western churches, the Epiphany (‘manifestation’) became an occasion to celebrate one element in the story of Christ’s birth, the visit of the far-travelled Magi, understood as the manifestation of Christ to the Gentiles. Matthew’s account speaks simply of ‘wise men from the east’; later tradition fixed their number at three, made them kings and recalled their resonant names – Caspar, Melchior and Balthasar.
Epiphany: It’s not just about taking down the decorations.
Many people have only heard of Twelfth Night or Epiphany as the deadline for taking down Christmas decorations, but it’s actually a significant part of Christian history. What is the history behind this holiday?
The word epiphany means “manifestation” or “revelation.” When Christians talk about Epiphany, we are referring to the three wise men or the Magi’s revelation that Jesus was the Christ, the Messiah that Israel had been waiting for (Matthew 2:1-12). On this day, we recognize the wise men’s journey to see, worship, and bring gifts to “the one...born king of the Jews” (Matthew 2:2). The festival commemorating Epiphany is 6th January.
Why does the Epiphany matter?
Christ’s birth was a big deal for the wise men, and it is a big deal for us. At its essence, Epiphany celebrates Jesus’ outward and visible expression of love in leaving His rightful place in heaven to live as a human and become the sacrifice for our sins. The Magi, wise men who studied the stars and were considered sinners, represent Jesus’ ability to draw all types of people to Him. He is a Savior who came for all people, including each one of us.
Epiphany traditions vary from culture to culture. It can be helpful to remember and celebrate significant events in Jesus’ life, including the Epiphany. What is important to keep in mind when celebrating any holiday is the reason for and the heart behind the celebration. Rather than acknowledging traditions or rituals because they’ve always been done, celebrate the meaning of the holiday: Jesus came to earth to save us.
6 January 2022
Jo Kelly-Moore, Dean of St. Albans
A treasure at the heart of Christmas for me each year has always been unpacking the nativity sets and setting them out, both at home and in church. The question always comes: where will we put the Wise Men? How far away should they be from the crib scene so that on this wonderful Feast of the Epiphany they get their star turn bringing their gifts to worship the Christ-child?
When our children were young the nativity sets in our house could also end up mixed up with any number of characters from Woody and Buzz to Batman entering the scene, and we would do our best not to let the Wise Men get to the manger too soon! I have always felt a bit sorry for them, too: following the star they arrive at the party just as we are packing them all up for another year!
When they had heard the king, the wise men set out; and there, ahead of them, went the star that they had seen at its rising, until it stopped over the place where the child was. When they saw that the star had stopped, they were overwhelmed with joy. On entering the house, they saw the child with Mary his mother; and they knelt down and paid him homage. Then, opening their treasure-chests, they offered him gifts of gold, frankincense, and myrrh. And having been warned in a dream not to return to Herod, they left for their own country by another road.
In the story of Jesus’ birth, the Magi are a wonderful ‘exclamation mark’ proclaiming that the light of Christ has come into the world. In following the star, they bring their lives and their gifts both to proclaim the arrival of God’s Son and to worship him. As their gifts tell us something of Jesus’ own life journey that was to come, so Matthew’s Gospel records the Magi journeying on from Bethlehem still guided by God.
While our nativity sets are soon put away for another year, the Feast of Epiphany reminds us that the truth of Christmas never ends and that Jesus journeys on with each of us as well. He invites us to know the light of his love, joy, peace and hope guiding our way. And he invites us in turn to be bearers of his light in the world.