Twelfth Night is approaching. January 6 is the Feast of the Epiphany, and many Christians remember this day as the one where Gentiles, the Magi — the Wise Men — visited Jesus, following the ‘star in the East’. Their journey is likely to have taken several months, not 12 days, over difficult terrain.
St Paul’s Lutheran Church (Missouri Synod) of Kingsville, Maryland, has a short but informative précis of Epiphany. Excerpts below, emphases mine:
WHAT IS THE EPIPHANY OF OUR LORD?
The Epiphany of our Lord is the wonderful liturgical festival observed on January 6. It is the oldest of the Christmas festivals and originally the most important. Since January 6 is most often a weekday, Lutherans and liturgical Protestants sometimes shift the celebration of Epiphany to the Sunday immediately following the 6th. Epiphany is also a season that lasts until the beginning of Lent and encompasses four to nine Sundays, depending on the date of Easter.
WHAT DOES THE WORD “EPIPHANY” MEAN?
The word epiphany comes from the Greek noun epiphaneia, which means “shining forth,” “manifestation,” or “revelation.” In the ancient Greco-Roman world, an epiphany referred to the appearance of one of the gods to mortals. Since Hellenistic kings and Roman emperors were considered by many to be gods, the word epiphany was also used as a term for divine majesty. The Epiphany of our Lord is the Christian festival that celebrates the many ways through signs, miracles, and preaching that Jesus revealed Himself to the world as Christ, God Incarnate, and King of kings.
WHAT DOES THE CHURCH COMMEMORATE DURING EPIPHANY?
The Festival of the Epiphany of our Lord originally commemorated three incidents that manifested the mission and divinity of Christ: the visit of the Magi (Matthew 2:1-12), the baptism of Jesus (Mark 1:9-11), and the miracle at Cana (John 2:1-11). Nowadays, most liturgical churches emphasize the visit of the Magi on January 6th and celebrate Christ’s baptism on the first Sunday after the 6th.
WHY IS EPIPHANY SUCH A SPECIAL DAY AND SEASON?
Epiphany is one of the most important festivals of the liturgical year because it shows the church how God comes to His people. We are so full of sin and deserving of divine punishment that we cannot hope to approach God. Knowing that we cannot come to Him, God took the initiative and came to us by becoming one of us. The most holy and almighty God condescended to take on human flesh in order to reveal His salvation to the world. This is the mystery of the Epiphany of our Lord …
In between the two Sundays that mark the Lord’s baptism and transfiguration, the church concentrates on several of the other incidents from Scripture that show how Jesus manifested God’s love to the world through His ministry of preaching, miracles, and healings. What is common to each of these epiphanies is that in one way or another they make known the identity and mission of Jesus Christ: True Man and True God, born into this sinful world to be the Lord and Savior of all humanity.
The word ‘epiphany’ will sound odd to children; it did to me when I was little. Therefore, it is worth explaining to them what it means with regard to God’s love for us, manifested in Jesus Christ. It is also useful to review the upcoming Sunday readings with them so that they have a greater understanding of Jesus’s life and His revealing to us His nature and purpose in the redemption of mankind.
Tomorrow: More on the Magi