January 6 marks the beginning of the Epiphany season with the celebration of Epiphany Day. While many Christians in eastern Europe, Asia, and Africa are only now celebrating the birth of Jesus, western Christians are thinking now about his life and about his identity as the Son of God.
Before writers started using the word epiphany as a synonym for “realization” or “discovery,” traditional Christians were using the word epiphany to talk about their relationship with Jesus. The apostle Paul, for example, uses it in I Timothy 6:14 to speak of the appearing of Jesus on the Last Day. Since the root meaning of the word epiphany is shining out or shining forth, it can be used to describe a revelation or revealing. The idea of light is central to “epiphany,” which is why it best applies to Jesus, the Light of the world.
On Epiphany Day, western Christians recall the visit of a group of wise men to Bethlehem to worship the King of the Jews. These wise men may have been from Persia or from Babylon, but the gifts they brought suggest that they were Arabs. (Also, it was an Arab prophet named Balaam who associated the coming of Israel’s King with a star in the book of Numbers.) They brought three gifts, although the Bible does not say how many wise men came to Bethlehem. Many Christians have manger scenes in their homes that show three wise men (or kings) visiting the new-born Savior along with the shepherds and the farm animals. Matthew says that they found the child and his mother in a house in Bethlehem. One custom uses the figure of the manger scene to bring together Christmas and Epiphany: the figures of the wise men and their camels are moved from place to place in the house each of the twelve days of Christmas, finally arriving at the manger only on January 6, the day of Epiphany.
From this day on to the beginning of Lent, Christians focus on the evidence that Jesus is the Christ, the promised Savior, a light to enlighten the nations and the glory of Israel. His miracles are remembered—changing water into wine at a wedding celebration, healing diseases of many kinds, and similar acts of power. Traditionally, the final Sunday in the Epiphany season recalls the Transfiguration of Jesus, when he shone with light in the presence of his disciples Peter, James, and John, as well as the Old Testament heroes Moses and Elijah.
Epiphany is a time for Christians to remember and celebrate Jesus Christ, the Light of the world. As he shone in Bethlehem and in the towns of Galilee and in Jerusalem, so he shines in the lives of his people today. Through the writings of the apostles and the prophets he shines into the lives of people all over the world. Through the work of his Bride the Church, he shines upon many within the Church and many who are drawn to the Church. He has not stopped working miracles, but his greatest miracles are not physical healings and the casting out of demons. His greatest miracles are the forgiveness of sins, and the gift of faith, and the power that turns sinners into saints. May the light of Jesus the Son of God shine in your life this Epiphany season. J.