When I was asked, a few years ago, to teach a group of children about Epiphany, I have to confess I had very little idea what it was all about. I knew it was celebrated on January 6th, and I thought it had something to do with the wise men visiting Jesus, but, beyond that, I knew very little as I have never been part of a church that celebrates it and I don’t think it is widely marked in the UK.
Of course, I agreed to do the lesson and decided to investigate, and what I discovered persuaded me that Epiphany is a festival worth celebrating. Maybe it’s something we’ve overlooked…
For many, Epiphany marks the end of the Christmas celebrations. It’s a time to take down the Christmas tree, put away the decorations, and return to normal life. But its message also goes deeper and reminds us that the coming of Jesus was not just for Christmas, but that its impact lasts way beyond the festive season.
Some dictionary definitions of Epiphany are:
“a moment of sudden insight or understanding” (Collins English Dictionary)
“an appearance or manifestation especially of a divine being”
“a usually sudden manifestation or perception of the essential nature or meaning of something”
“an intuitive grasp of reality through something (such as an event) usually simple and striking”
“an illuminating discovery, realization, or disclosure” (Merriam Webster)
The main event that is remembered at Epiphany is the visit of the wise men to Jesus, and that special moment when, after a long journey, they finally met him.
“They entered the house and saw the child with his mother, Mary, and they bowed and worshiped him. Then they opened their treasure chests and gave him gifts of gold, frankincense, and myrrh.” (Matthew 2:11 NLT)
We can only imagine how amazing that moment must have been as they gazed on what seemed at face value to be an everyday scene – a family with a young child – and yet they knew that he was so much more.
Their response of worship proved that they understood this, as did their gifts:
Gold – for a king, the ultimate King
Frankincense – for a priest, one who would bridge the gap between God and people
Myrrh – for death, pointing ahead to the sacrifice that would bring life to many
As they gazed on the child, the ordinary was extraordinary because God was there.
And, what’s more, the fact that God had revealed himself to those from distant lands showed that the Saviour was not only for the Jewish people, but for Gentiles too – for all who would believe.
Another event that is sometimes remembered at Epiphany is Jesus’ baptism by John.
For 30 years, Jesus had grown up, living amongst the others in Nazareth as a seemingly ordinary person, but in his baptism, he was revealed to those present as someone extraordinary:
“After his baptism, as Jesus came up out of the water, the heavens were opened and he saw the Spirit of God descending like a dove and settling on him. And a voice from heaven said, “This is my dearly loved Son, who brings me great joy.” (Matthew 3:16-17 NLT)
It must have been another amazing moment, especially for those who had known Jesus as he grew up and who suddenly discovered there was more to him than they had realised.
Scripture is full of many other examples. They may not be celebrated at Epiphany in the same way, but they are moments when God suddenly broke into the ordinary, revealing himself in unexpected ways.
Like Moses – tending his sheep, when suddenly a burning bush caught his attention, leading to an encounter with God and a call to be part of his rescue plan.
Like Saul – journeying to Damascus to arrest Jesus’ followers, when he was stopped in his tracks by encountering Jesus for himself.
Like Jacob – running away from his brother Esau, when God revealed himself in a dream, and he was able to declare, “Surely the Lord is in this place, and I wasn’t even aware of it!” (Genesis 28:16 NLT)
Like the centurion – standing at the foot of the cross and suddenly having his eyes opened to the truth: “This man truly was the Son of God!” (Matthew 27:54 NLT)
It seems that God loves to reveal himself to people and longs for us to grasp the truth of who he is. None of these people received their revelations from God because of their own goodness or because they deserved it – in many cases it was just the opposite.
As we go into a new year, and I reflect on my word for the year, which is “Vision,” it challenges me to keep my eyes open.
How does God want to reveal himself to me this year?
Where does he want to break into the ordinary to do something extraordinary?
What situations does he want me to see from his perspective, to look beneath the surface and recognise what he is doing?
So, happy Epiphany! And I pray that for you, too, this might be a year when God reveals himself in a fresh way, when the ordinary becomes extraordinary, and when, like the wise men, you understand more fully who Jesus is, and you are able to join them in their response of worship.