What is Epiphany?

After Jesus was born in Bethlehem in Judea, during the time of King Herod,
Magi from the east came to Jerusalem and asked,
“Where is the one who has been born king of the Jews?
We saw his star when it rose and have come to worship him.”
~ Matthew 2:1-2 (NIV)

As a child, I would hear the pastor or a Sunday School teacher speak the word, “Epiphany.” I would struggle to repeat it, and my mind swirled around it searching for an explanation.

Having participated in the Christmas pageant just before Christmas, my focus at that time was on the excitement of Christmas and the possibility that one year I might be chosen as Mary. Although the beauty and sparkle of the robes the wise men wore distracted me.

Adoration of the Magi by Velazquez

Adoration of the Magi by Diego Velazquez
(1619, housed in the Museo del Prado)

Finally, in college in a Bible history class, I received my explanation of “Epiphany.” Simply stated, it was defined as a feast day observed in early Christian churches as a celebration of the manifestation of the incarnation of Jesus Christ and more, up through and including the miracle at the wedding in Cana in Galilee. However, it seems the major premise for celebration was Jesus’ baptism by John the Baptist. (Read more in Wikipedia)

And, much to my surprise, in that class I learned that those lusciously garbed wise men did not come at Christmas. Oh, no! According to some sources, they traveled a good two years before appearing to Mary, Joseph and Jesus bearing their gifts of gold, frankincense, and myrrh.

So what were the wise men doing in our Christmas pageant?

Likely for convenience sake, the entire story became one tale. And for centuries it may have been so. Likely it has changed time and again down through history.

Artists have taken their liberties with the story as well. In fact, Velazquez is one of a few artist’s who actually capture the visit of the wise men showing Jesus as somewhat older than a newborn infant. So often, we think of them kneeling before a tiny infant.

And the artist shows two of three wise men as lighter-skinned people when in fact history tell us the three were likely from Eastern countries and their skin might have been darker.

I could continue to regale you with the differences of opinion and in history about this day we celebrate on January 6th as Epiphany.

But is any of this really important to the why of our various religious celebrations, commemorations, and even our adoration of the Christ Child?

For my part, no. My joy is not found in the details and technicalities of this beautiful story. The ingredients are all there, no matter how they happened.

Who can take a story of virgin birth, starry nights with angels in the skies, shepherds watching from below, and wise men who travel two years, escaping Herod’s wrath and angels warning Joseph and Mary to escape, and come to the story’s end questioning anything about it?

Friends, we have in this one story received the gift of love, life, forgiveness, and salvation.
It matters not when we celebrate. The gift is one to celebrate every day.