The Feast of the Epiphany
I wonder what they saw in the sky that first night. What was it that got them thinking? What was it that motivated them to pack and begin a journey to who knew where? Something had been revealed to them. But what was it? Was it in the sky, in their mind, in their heart?
We don’t have much historical information about these wise men and their journey. St. Matthew says they came from the East. Some have speculated they were from Persia. We like to think that there were three of them, but St. Matthew doesn’t say that, and the number has varied throughout the church’s history; 2, 3, 4, 8, even 12. We call them Caspar, Melchior, and Balthazar but those names didn’t come about until the seventh century. And what about “the star?” It has been viewed as a supernatural phenomenon, just a regular star, a comet, or sometimes as a conjunction or grouping of planets.
This anonymity and lack of historical information is a reminder that this story, this Epiphany journey, is not just the wise men’s journey; it is everyone’s journey. The truth of sacred scripture is never limited to or contained only in the past.
I don’t know what was in the sky, what they saw, that first night. I don’t know what was in their minds; what they thought, asked, or talked about. I don’t know what was in their hearts; what they felt, dreamed, or longed for. But I know that there have been times when we each have experienced Epiphany; times when our night sky has been lit brightly, times when our minds have been illumined, times when our hearts have been enlightened. Those times have revealed to us a life and world larger than before. They have been moments that gave us the courage to travel beyond the borders and boundaries that usually circumscribe our lives. Epiphanies are those times when something calls us, moves us, to a new place and we see the face of God in a new way; so human that it almost seems ordinary, maybe too ordinary to believe.
That’s what happened to the wise men. They began to see and hear the stories of their lives. Something stirred within them and they began to wonder, to imagine, that their lives were part of a much larger story. Could it be that the one who created life, who hung the stars in the sky, noticed them, knew them, lived within them, and was calling them? Could it be that the light they saw in the sky was a reflection of the divine light that burned within them, that burns within each one of us?
To seriously consider these questions is to begin the journey. That journey took the wise men to the house where they found the answer to their questions in the arms of his mother, Mary. We may travel a different route than the wise men did but the answer is the same.
Yes, Yes, Yes. God notices us, knows us, lives within us, and calls us. God is continually revealing himself in and through humanity, in the flesh.
Maybe it was the day you bathed your first child/grandchild and saw the beauty of creation and the love of the Creator. Or that day you said, “I love you” and knew that it was about more than just romance or physical attraction. Perhaps it was the moment you really believed your life was sacred, holy, and acceptable to God. Maybe it was the time you kept vigil at the beside of one who was dying, and you experienced the joy that death is not the end.
These are the stories of our lives, epiphanies that forever change who we are, how we live, and the road we travel. They are moments of ordinary everyday life in which divinity is revealed in humanity and we see God’s glory face to face.
You Are Never Alone - Max Lucado
Michael Marsh Blog
All Things New - Pete Hughes
God on Mute - Pete Greig
Epiphanies of the Ordinary: Encounters That Change Lives - Charlie Cleverly
Everyday Epiphanies - Melannie Svoboda
Epiphanies - Mary Murphy
What is Epiphany ?
Epiphany is celebrated 12 days after Christmas on 6th January (or January 19th for some Orthodox Church who have Christmas on 7th January) and is the time when Christians remember the Wise Men ( also called the Magi) visited Jesus.
Epiphany is also when some Churches remember when Jesus was Baptised, when he was about 30, and started to teach people about God. Epiphany means 'revelation' and both the visit of the Wise Men and his Baptism are important times when Jesus was 'revealed' to be very important.
Some Churches celebrate use Epiphany to celebrate and remember both the visit of the Wise Men and Jesus's Baptism!
Epiphany is mainly celebrated by Catholics and Orthodox Christians. It's a big and important festival in Spain, where it's also known as 'The festival of the three Magic Kings' - 'Fiesta de Los tres Reyes Mages', and is when Spanish and some other Catholic children receive their presents - as they are delivered by the Three Kings!
In Spain on Epiphany morning you might go to the local bakers and buy a special cake/pastry called a 'Roscón' (meaning a ring shaped roll). They are normally filled with cream or chocolate and are decorated with a paper crown. There is normally a figure of a king (if you find that you can wear the crown) and a dried bean (if you find that you're meant to pay for the cake!). In Catalonia it's known as a Tortell or Gâteau des Rois and is stuffed with marzipan.
In France you might eat a 'Galette des Rois', a type of flat almond cake. It has a toy crown cooked inside it and is decorated on top with a gold paper crown.
There are similar traditions in Mexico where Epiphany is known as 'El Dia de los Reyes' (the day of The Three Kings). It's traditional to eat a special cake called 'Rosca de Reyes' (Three Kings Cake). A figure of Baby Jesus is hidden inside the cake. Whoever has the baby Jesus in their piece of cake is the 'Godparent' of Jesus for that year.
In Portugal, people take part in Epiphany carol singing known as the 'Janeiras' (January songs). On the Island of Maderia they're known as the 'Cantar os Reis' (singing the kings).
In Italy, some children also get their presents on Epiphany. But they believe that an old lady called 'Befana' brings them. Children put stockings up by the fireplace for Befana to fill.
In Austria, at Epiphany, some people write a special sign in chalk over their front door. It's a reminder of the Wise Men that visited the baby Jesus. It's made from the year split in two with initials of the names that are sometimes given to 'the three wise men', Caspar, Melchior and Balthazar, in the middle. So 2021 would be: 20*C*M*B*21. The sign is meant to protect the house for the coming year. Some parts of Germany also have the tradition of marking over doors. The 'Four Hills' Ski Jumping Tournament also finishes on 6th January in Bischofshofen, Austria.
At Epiphany in Belgium, children dress up as the three wise men and go from door to door to sing songs and people give them money or sweets, kind of like Trick or Treating on Halloween. Children in Poland also go out singing on Epiphany.
In Ireland, Epiphany is also sometimes called 'Nollaig na mBean' or Women's Christmas. Traditionally the women get the day off and men do the housework and cooking! It is becoming more popular and many Irish women now get together on the Sunday nearest Epiphany and have tea and cakes!
In the Ethiopian Orthodox Church (which celebrates Christmas on 7th January), twelve days after Christmas, on 19th January, the three day celebration of Ethiopians Timkat starts. This celebrates Jesus's baptism.
In New Orleans, Louisiana, in the USA, on Epiphany/King's Day, the Christmas Tree is either take down or the ornaments are replaced with Purple, Gold and Green ones and it's then called a 'Mardi Gras Tree'! People also like to eat 'King Cake' (a cinnamon pastry with sugar on the top and sometimes filled with cream cheese or jelly/jam). The King Cake will have a little baby plastic doll inside (which represents Jesus); whoever gets the piece with the baby has to supply the next King Cake! Some people have "King Cake Party" every Friday before Lent (the time before Easter).
Epiphany Eve (also known as Twelfth Night) marks the end of the traditional Christmas celebrations and is the time when you were meant to take Christmas decorations down - although some people leave them up until Candlemas.