What Is Epiphany?
We use all types of methods and devices to regulate and order our days, weeks, and years. Even the words “day,” “week,” and “year” represent conventions society has adopted to help us coordinate our activities. Whether it is a calendar, a watch, an almanac, or a day planner, we need these devices to keep us on track and to help us avoid confusion. The church also has its own way of keeping Christians “on track” called the church year. The church year is divided into seasons, and whereas our regular calendar might not always point us to the eternal blessings we have in Christ Jesus, the church seasons focus our attention on the different facets of our Savior’s life and work.
In December we celebrated Advent, a time where we look forward to Jesus’ coming, both on Christmas morning and on the Last Day. Now we move into the season of Epiphany. “Epiphany” means “to manifest or appear,” and although this season might not receive as much commercial attention as Christmas, the church has been celebrating Epiphany since the 2nd and 3rdcenturies. The earliest Christian celebrations centered on Easter and Pentecost, and all further developments of the yearly cycle, including Epiphany, were built around these important celebrations.
The early church struggled against the pagan religions that dominated the social landscape of the first, second, and third century. One of the ways they attempted to assert Christianity over and against paganism was to lend different meanings to important pagan holidays. Two of the most important pagan celebrations revolved around the winter solstice and fell on the dates December 25 (birthday of the Unconquered Sun) and January 6 (birth of the god Dionysus). The early church co-opted these dates and turned them into celebrations of the incarnation of the true Sun of Righteousness, Jesus Christ.
By the fifth century, the birth of our Lord and his baptism where celebrated together under the season of Epiphany by almost all sectors of the church. Later, as Christmas developed into its own separate celebration, Epiphany became an observance of Jesus’ baptism in the Eastern churches and an observance of the visit of the Magi in the Western churches.
During Epiphany we celebrate the manifestations of our Lord. At Christ’s circumcision, we celebrate our Lord’s manifestation as the “light to the Gentiles” and the “glory of Israel.” In Christ’s baptism, we celebrate our Lord’s manifestation as the Son of God with whom God himself is well pleased. And, as our Lord is presented to the Wise Men, we celebrate Christ’s manifestation to the entire world. Epiphany is our time to focus on the manifestation and appearing of our Lord as the Messiah, sent by God to free the world from sin, death, and condemnation. May this time of Epiphany help us all to focus on Jesus’ manifestations in our own lives, through baptism, the Word, and the Lord’s Supper, because in Christ’s manifestation as God’s answer to our sin, we all find life, hope, and salvation. May the Lord bless and keep you all during this Epiphany season. (Pastor Sam Bobby, Former GSLC Vicar, January 2007)
The Epiphany Star and the Wise Men
In Matthew chapter two we read the account of the wise men who journeyed from the East to worship Jesus. The Bible tells us they followed a star. Many people have wondered about that star. Was it a miraculous star created by God just for the purpose of leading the wise men? Others have looked for astrological evidence of such a star at the time of Jesus’ birth. We know that close to the time of Jesus’ birth there were some unusual astrological occurrences. For example, Jupiter came into conjunction with Regulus, the star of kingship, the brightest star of the constellation of Leo. Leo was the constellation of kings, and it was associated with the Lion of Judah. Later there was a conjunction of Jupiter and Venus, the two brightest objects in the sky save the sun and moon. Predictions of these conjunctions were made 400 years prior to the birth of Christ.
Whether this was a miraculous star or an unusual astrological phenomenon, we know that God used these events to serve the purposes of His plan of salvation. The wise men must have had some Biblical knowledge of the coming King of Judah. Along with other scientific observations, they were led by God to Jesus. No one really knows how many wise men there were. Many people assume there were three because of the three kinds of gifts the brought. But there may have only been two or many more than three.
One thing we do know for certain is that they looked upon Jesus as a new born king. That’s amazing when you consider the poverty and the low class into which Jesus was born. Yet the wise men looked beyond the outward circumstances to the realities of God’s revelation. Oh, how much we need that same view today. It is very easy to see the chaos and the degradation that grows stronger and stronger in our world. It would be very easy to lose hope that God is real and that He is coming again in glory. Nevertheless, like the wise men, we can see reality in the promises of God. Just as the wise men search the Scriptures and followed the star, so we are called to follow Christ in His word and look beyond all the outward circumstances. (Pastor Walther, January 2004)