Crammed between Christmas and Lent is this wonderful season after Epiphany. The Feast of the Epiphany, January 6, is the day we celebrate the wise men from the east who came with gifts for Jesus. These wise men, or magi, were the first non-Jews, or “Gentiles,” to pay homage to Jesus.
The word “epiphany” properly means a “manifestation” or a “showing forth.” At the Feast of the Epiphany, we celebrate that God in Christ has been made manifest for all people, both Jew and Gentile. This manifestation is embodied in the Church, as people from every nation and tongue come to offer their gifts and homage to the Lord.
This theme of showing forth, of Christ as the light for all the world, is carried on throughout the season after Epiphany. Particularly descriptive is the collect for the second Sunday after the Epiphany (which we will say on Sunday, January 15): “Almighty God, whose Son our Savior Jesus Christ is the light of the world: Grant that your people, illumined by your Word and Sacraments, may shine with the radiance of Christ’s glory, that he may be known, worshiped, and obeyed to the ends of the earth; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who with you and the Holy Spirit lives and reigns, one God, now and for ever. Amen.” (Book of Common Prayer, 215).
I ask you to reflect on these Epiphany themes. How are you showing forth the light of Jesus? What gifts are your bringing to Christ and the Church? In what ways have you been illumined by Word and Sacraments?
These reflective questions, though they are about Epiphany, presume that we have experienced Christmas. We have witnessed the incarnation, the “making flesh” of God, and now we must figure out how this changes the way we live. One of T.S. Eliot’s most magnificent poems is entitled “Journey of the Magi.” In the poem, after seeing the birth of Jesus, the magi reflect, “We returned to our places, these Kingdoms/ But no longer at ease here, in the old dispensation.”
Christmas ought to change us; the way we live, the way we see things. We are no longer at ease with the way things were. The incarnation of our Lord gives us a new lens through which to see the world. The season after Epiphany is our opportunity to use our new lens, and to practice reflecting the light of Christ to all the world.
The Epiphany has captured creative imaginations for centuries. Numerous paintings, icons, and poems (see above) have reflected on these images. I encourage you to watch this silent film from 1912 entitled, “The Star of Bethlehem.” It’s painfully slow, but hang in there. It’s quite fascinating.