Epiphany Gifts

Today is the feast of the Epiphany of the Lord.

The word “epiphany” comes from a Greek term meaning manifestation or appearance and in Christian terms refers to the revelation of God becoming human in the person of Jesus. St. Gregory the Great spoke of creation responding to the Incarnation: “When the king of heaven was born, the heavens knew that he was God because they immediately sent forth a star; the sea knew him because it allowed him to walk upon it; the earth knew him because it trembled when he died; the sun knew him because it hid the rays of its light.”

The Gospel reading for today is the visit to the Christ child by the Magi “from the east,” who made a long and hard journey to pay homage to the newborn king, having seen “his star at its rising.”

When I think of the gifts the Magi brought to the Christ child, I am reminded of one of my favorite stories, Henry Van Dyke’s, “The Story of the Other Wise Man.” It is the story of a man named Artaban. Along with his friends – Caspar, Melchior and Balthazar, Artaban searched the ancient tablets that told of the coming of a star that would lead them to the Anointed One.

Although Artaban was to meet his friends and travel with them to the child, something happened that prevented him from doing so. Van Dyke’s narration of Artaban’s experiences tells us something about the gift Christ really wants from us.

I have used this story a couple of times to end our Advent Retreats in Daily Living at the law school. This is a recording of a talk I gave a couple of years ago telling the story.

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Solemnity of the Epiphany

Although the traditional day for the celebration of the Epiphany of the Lord is January 6, the celebration is now often moved to the Sunday closest to the day, which means the Catholic Church celebrates the Epiphany today.

I confess that the first use of the term “epiphany” that had any real significance to me was the secular use of the term by James Joyce to refer to a sudden flash of insight or perception. I remember spending lots of time in senior High School English class talking about epiphanies in Joyce’s Dubliners and others of his works.

The word “epiphany” comes from a Greek term meaning manifestation or appearance and in Christian terms refers to the revelation of God becoming human in the person of Jesus. St. Gregory the Great spoke of creation responding to the Incarnation: “When the king of heaven was born, the heavens knew that he was God because they immediately sent forth a star; the sea knew him because it allowed him to walk upon it; the earth knew him because it trembled when he died; the sun knew him because it hid the rays of its light.”

It is no accident that the Gospel reading for today is the visit to the Christ child by the Magi. “Magi from the east” made a long and hard journey to pay homage to the newborn king, having seen “his star at its rising.”

The visit of the Magi tells us that from the very beginning, Christ was manifest not only to the Isaelites, but to the whole world. The light of Christ is, in the words for the Preface in today’s Mass, “the light of all peoples.” The implication is that we, as Christ’s followers, are to be light to all as well.

The Epiphany of the Lord

Today we celebrate the feast of the Epiphany, known as Three Kings’ Day in some cultures. Most of us who set up our creches at Christmas time include figures of the three Magi bearing their gifts for the Christ Child (although I confess that whenever I unwrap my three figures and place them in the creche in my home I think of the old joke that had the three wise men been three wise women, they might have brought gifts that were actually useful for a newborn). But we miss the significance of the day if we think of it as just part of a story of something that happened a long time ago.

The word epiphany means to reveal or to make known. The Catechism of the Catholic Church calls the feast of the Epiphany the feast “which celebrates the manifestation to the world of the newborn Christ as Messiah, Son of God, and Savior of the world.” The heavens revealed Jesus to the world by sending forth a star. The Wise Men, the first Gentiles to acknowledge Christ’s kingship, revealed Jesus to a world beyond Bethleham.

But it didn’t end there. It is our task today is to reveal Jesus to the world. In the words of one of the blessings we receive at the end of Mass on this day,

Because you are followers of Christ,
who appeared on this day as a light shining in darkness,
may he make you a light to all your sisters and brothers.
Amen.