What does ‘The Epiphany’ mean? To a lot of Christian people, the Epiphany just means the coming of the three wise men. But there is a lot more to it than that. For a start, the word ‘Epiphany’ means a “manifestation, or an experience of sudden and striking realization.” It can apply in any situation in which an enlightening realization allows a problem or situation to be understood from a new and deeper perspective. Think of Archimedes’ “Eureka” moment in his bath, or Isaac Newton’s realising that the apple that hit him on the head, and the moon orbiting the earth, were being pulled by the same force.
To Christians it means the time when Jesus was recognised by the Gentiles, represented by the wise men, as the Messiah – King of the Jews. The wise men’s research told them that the King of the Jews was to be born at that time, they followed the star, found the infant Jesus, and realised that this was indeed the King they sought. That therefore was their Epiphany.
Epiphany comes just twelve days after Christmas, on 6th January. It is sometimes said to be the feast day that celebrates the final unwrapping of the present we were given by God on Christmas Day. He now reveals God the Son, the human being of Jesus Christ, not just to the Jews but also to the Gentiles.
For hundreds of years the world had been told by God, through the prophets, that he was going to come, himself, in the form of a new-born child, and this child would become, as an adult, the Messiah, the King of the Jews, the Saviour of the world. God was true to his word.
Advent, Christmas and Epiphany should be changing us as it changed the wise men – they studied the scriptures and the skies in Advent, saw the Holy Child after Christmas, and experienced their own epiphanies.
I pray that we will all experience, or experience again, an epiphany in January. That we, like the wise men, will individually realise and understand that Jesus Christ is the Son of God, and that this knowledge will change us to be more like Jesus.
But, am I being over-optimistic? I sometimes wonder whether in the last two thousand years we’ve moved even an inch further towards bringing the kingdom here. What’s changed? Are we any less cruel than we used to be? Are we fairer, more caring, less vain, less greedy? As Alfred Noyes said, “God, build us that better world, but that’s not done with tongue or sword or pen – God make us better men!”
And in the words of Christopher Wordsworth, (nephew of William) and one-time Vicar of Stanford-in-the-Vale
Grant us grace to see thee, Lord,
Mirrored in thy holy word;
May we imitate thee now,
And be pure, as pure as thou;
That we like to thee may be
At thy great Epiphany,
And may praise thee, ever blest,
God in man made manifest.
Christopher Wordsworth (1807-85)
May Advent, Christmas and Epiphany be joyful and revelatory experiences for us all.