Manifestations of the Divine
Epiphany. The season between Christmas and Lent. The actual Feast of the Epiphany was this past Thursday – it's always on January 6th. The traditional gospel reading for the Feast of the Epiphany is the visitation of the wise men. This kickoff to the season of Epiphany gives the firm reminder that the Messiah, the Savior whose birth we just celebrated at Christmas, was not just the Savior of the Jews. He was the light of men, the light of all nations. He was the Savior of mankind. Though rejected by His own people, all who did receive Him he gave the right to become children of God. God bore witness to His Messiah through prophets long before the Messiah stepped onto the world stage. But when the appointed time had come, God gave testimony in the very heavens (among the stars) that a great king had been born to the Jews. And yet, this sign was visible to all who studied such things. So, the wise men, or magi, came from foreign lands to worship the newborn king, bringing their most precious gifts.
The word 'epiphany' means manifestation. In general, it refers to a manifestation or appearance of the divine. We don't tend to use it that way though. We speak of having an epiphany as meaning one of those lightbulb moments of insight or understanding that suddenly come to us. More properly though, we could speak of our epiphanies as those special moments of seeking or listening for God when He lets us know beyond a shadow of a doubt, in a way that is unique and personal to us, that He is there, that He sees us, that He hears us, that He knows us. Personal epiphanies are those moments when we experience His presence. Perhaps you remember your first epiphany of that kind. Perhaps that's why you are still worshiping Him today.
The Feast of the Epiphany traces back to at least as early as the third century, where in the Eastern church it was initially celebrated in connection with both the birth of Christ and the Baptism of our Lord, for in both there was a manifestation of the divine. In the Western church, the feast began to be celebrated in the fourth century; but there it became associated with the visit of the magi in recognition that the manifestation of Christ was for all the world. Today, the East still associates the Feast of the Epiphany with the Baptism of Christ, and we in the West still associate it with the visit of the magi. However, the West does pick up the Eastern connection with Christ's baptism by traditionally honoring the baptism of our Lord on the Sunday after the Epiphany.
The season of Epiphany is bracketed nicely. We always begin the season with Jesus' baptism and we end it with his transfiguration. At both events, the heavenly Father spoke His recognition of His divine Son and pronounced His loving approval of Jesus' person, mission and work.
As we go through the eight Sundays of Epiphany this year, I encourage you to pay attention to the readings, and to note how Jesus' divine nature is made manifest. Then reflect on two things: how God has been made known to you personally in Christ; and how God is calling you to make Him known in Christ to those around you.