One of the questions this week is about the Epiphany: “Growing up in a protestant church, I never heard of the Epiphany. Could you explain?”
I grew up a Protestant church, and I do not recall a discussion about the Epiphany. I have to confess that as a young boy, I might not have been attentive. I think a review of the Epiphany will provide guidance and support for Christians. Simply stated the celebration of the manifestation of the divine nature of Jesus occurs on Epiphany Day.
A look at the historical points will reveal several interesting points. An ancient Feast Day, older than Christmas, originated in the East. The first recorded Christmas celebration was in Rome on Dec. 25, 336 AD. It was later in the fourth century that Western Churches celebrated the Epiphany.
Reviewing the Epiphany can be confusing because there are differences. It is called by different names: Epiphany Day, Three Kings Day and Twelfth Day. The first two are self-explanatory, and the Twelfth Day refers to the 12 days of Christmas from Dec. 25 to Jan. 6. It could also be confusing that the East Orthodox Christian Church and the Western Christian Churches celebrate on different dates. Also some churches only celebrate one day, Jan. 6, Epiphany Day, while others celebrate the Epiphany Season. This season begins on Epiphany Day and ends on the date designated by the church. Even though there are differences, the important point is that the church commemorates the coming of the Magi as the first manifestation of Christ found in Matthew 2:1–12.
Defining a few words might be helpful. Epiphany is defined as “a usually sudden manifestation or perception of the essential nature or meaning of something; an appearance or manifestation especially of a divine being,” (https://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/epiphany). Theophany is defined as “a visible manifestation of a deity.” (https://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/theophany). Among others, an example of theophany is described in Exodus 3:4,6, “God called to him from within the bush, ‘Moses! Moses! I am the God of your father.’ ” Manifestation is “a perceptible, outward or visible expression.”(https://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/manifestation). Incarnation means “the union of divinity with humanity.” (https://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/incarnate).
Christians believe that incarnation was in the birth of Jesus and his baptism. The visit of the Magi with their priceless gifts honored this birth as recorded in Matthew 2:11, “On coming to the house, they saw the child with his mother Mary, and they bowed down and worshiped him. Then they opened their treasures and presented him with gifts of gold, frankincense and myrrh. Some Christians also believe that the Epiphany Season from Jan. 6 to his baptism is a time to study Jesus’ childhood influences and events and the importance of his Baptism.
Jesus was nurtured by his earthly parents. They provided him with important teachers who increased his knowledge. At the age of 12, his parents took him to Jerusalem for the Festival of the Passover. After the festival, his parents left, but he remained in Jerusalem. “After three days they found him in the temple courts, sitting among the teachers, listening to them and asking them questions. Everyone who heard him was amazed at his understanding and his answers.” (Luke 2:46-47). In Luke 2:52, we find, “And Jesus grew in wisdom and stature, and in favor with God and man.”
Later as a man, he asked John to baptize Him. In Matthew 3:13-17, we find the identity of Jesus manifested by God’s words, “Then Jesus came from Galilee to the Jordan to be baptized by John. But John tried to deter him, saying, ‘I need to be baptized by you, and do you come to me?’ Jesus replied, ‘Let it be so now; it is proper for us to do this to fulfill all righteousness.’ Then John consented. As soon as Jesus was baptized, he went up out of the water. At that moment heaven was opened, and he saw the Spirit of God descending like a dove and alighting on him. And a voice from heaven said, ‘This is my Son, whom I love; with him I am well pleased.’"
After this period of studying Jesus’ childhood and his baptism, it will be time to study the life and ministry of Jesus.
“For in Christ Jesus you are all sons of God, through faith.” Galatians 3:26