The Feast of the Epiphany
“On the twelfth day of Christmas…” January 6, we celebrate the feast of the Epiphany! This special day celebrates the coming of the Magi – the three wise men (or kings), from the East who followed a star and came and adore Jesus.
The definition of the word “epiphany” is a divine or supernatural manifestation – just as the wise men discovered Jesus.
“We Three Kings”
Who were the three kings? Their story is shrouded in legend and tradition but it is believed that they were skilled at watching the stars. They knew about the many prophesies that spoke of the Messiah and when they saw the bright star they knew something special was about to happen – that the Messiah had finally arrived.
The Magi traveled for a long time – roughly three years. Their first stop was to visit King Herod in Jerusalem because they thought that the King of the Jews would be born in a palace.
“Where is the newborn king of the Jews? We saw his star at its rising and have come to do him homage.” Matthew 2:2
Herod was furious because he did not know that Jesus’ kingdom would be a heavenly one and he thought that his power was in danger. The chief priests and scribes of Jerusalem told Herod what the scriptures had said:
And you, Bethlehem, land of Judah, are by no means least among the rulers of Judah; since from you shall come a ruler, who is to shepherd my people Israel. Matthew 2:6
King Herod then secretly met with the Magi and asked them exactly when the star appeared. He then told them that they could find the King of the Jews in Bethlehem. He told them:
“Go and search diligently for the child. When you have found him, bring me word, that I too may go and do him homage.” Matthew 2:8
“Westward Leading, Still Proceeding”
The Magi set out for Bethlehem and eventually they came to the house where Jesus, Mary, and Joseph were staying. They gave Jesus the gifts they brought for Him – gold, frankincense, and myrrh. Gold because Jesus is king; Frankincense because Jesus is God; and Myrrh because Jesus would one day die upon the cross to save us from our sins.
As they prepared to leave Bethlehem and return home, God warned them in a dream to avoid Herod and so they took a different way home.
Herod was furious when he found out that the Magi tricked him. Because he still felt threatened by this newborn King of the Jews, he ordered the killing of every baby boy from birth to three years old. God warned Joseph in a dream that they should flee to Egypt and so Joseph and Mary escaped to Egypt and Jesus’ life was spared.
“We Traverse Afar”
There are many special ways all around the world to celebrate the Epiphany. In some countries, children open presents on the Epiphany instead of Christmas. Some people believe the Magi bring the presents instead of Santa Claus. Christmas decorations can be taken down on the Epiphany but some people choose to wait until Candlemas – the Presentation of the Lord.
In almost every country, there is a special cake associated with the day and many of the foods and sweets associated with this day have many spices to symbolize the spices the Magi gave Jesus. Spanish children write a letter to the three kings asking for a special grace, blessing, or virtue for the year ahead. In Ireland, the Epiphany is sometimes known as Women’s Christmas, a day when the men take over so the women could rest from all the hard work of preparing for Christmas.
On the Feast of the Epiphany, it is very special to ask the blessing of God on your house throughout the following year. This blessing can help us remember that God is a part of our comings and goings and every aspect of our daily lives. As a part of this blessing, it is traditional to write in chalk above the main entrance to the home. This is what the writing would look like for 2018: +20 C M B 18+.
The letters C, M, B can signify the names of the three Magi: Caspar, Melchior, and Balthazar. They can also stand for Christus Mansionem Benedicat, which is Latin for May Christ bless this house. The + signs represent the cross of Christ and the first two numbers are the first part of the year, while the last two numbers are the last part of the year.
“Guide Us to Thy Perfect Light”
The Epiphany should remind us of how special Jesus is and that we should spend our lives seeking Him. Jesus is the light for everyone and if we follow Him we will never go astray.
Star of wonder, star of might, star with royal beauty bright – westward leading, still proceeding, guide us to the perfect light.