O….M….G!!!! My head is spinning, dear readers, help anchor me to this earth!! Stop, stop roller coaster of church traditions, I want to get off! First and foremost, welcome to the formal close of the Christmas season (kinda) and opening of the third and final portion of the Incarnation trilogy of seasons, with a vigorous festival celebrating the 3 Magi visiting the Christ-child (mostly). Today (for western Christians) we mark the Feast of the Epiphany of our Lord Jesus Christ, and we’ll absolutely need every day of Epiphanytide to ‘splain, decode and explore the approximately 3,000 traditions accreted to this ancient Christian festival! And, we get to welcome back to daily devotions an old and trusted authority, an enthusiastic travel companion, the 4th century Spanish nun and pilgrim Egeria. EGERIA’S BACK, YA’LL!!!! Surely she can make sense (ohhh….dear….) of it all.
Whew. Let’s try to wrap….something…introductory around this prodigious festival today, and we’ll pace ourselves throughout the week and season exploring the gift of Epiphany, for Jesus and for us. Epipháneia in the street Greek of antiquity means, roughly, manifestation or dramatic appearance. Geeking still further, the roots of this term are quite ancient, perhaps derived from Sanskrit bhati and ported to Greek as phainein, to illuminate or make visible or a related Greek word which comes straight into English (very helpful to English playwright Andrew Lloyd Webber), phantazein, to make visible. All these words begin with the ph sound like phone, thus the Sanskrit is pronounced fah-tee; I suspect this Greek root in 1928 also provided physical chemist Gilbert Lewis with a root for his invented word photon, an elementary massless particle which can convey light at a quantum level. See, isn’t Epiphany easy?!! All these words speak to light, illumination, revelation, manifestation, visibility. God ain’t subtle!
Clement of Alexandria (Egypt, a trusted source, we like him!) mentions a Christian festival in early January in 200 AD/CE, surprisingly early, and by 361 AD/CE Epiphany is a well-recognized Christian Feast. My favorite travel companion Egeria encounters a lavish Epiphany-fest in Jerusalem and Bethlehem after 381 AD/CE. Unfortunately, these sources conflate three distinct gospel events on January 6th! For some, today marks the birthday of Jesus or basically a late Christmas. For others, the visitation of the Magi, and for some others, the Baptism of Jesus as a young adult! AAAGGHH!! Even more frustrating, a large section of Egeria’s Journal no doubt detailing dramatic, priceless experiences of Holy Land Epiphany worship is….missing. (Insert academic curse language ______) Most clerics have far more enriching social lives than do I, so none of us were ever taught any of this in Liturgics! What to do, what to do?
- First, we pray on one of Christianity’s holiest festivals, because I suspect when we reach heaven God may not ask us our liturgical theology regarding Epiphany! Pray with me and our church, please: O God, by the leading of a star you manifested your only Son to the Peoples of the earth: Lead us, who know you now by faith, to your presence, where we may see your glory face to face; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever. Amen. Our BCP Collect for Epiphany provides major clues as to which theme the western churches (Roman Catholic and European Protestant, including our own Anglican tradition) focused upon for Epiphany.
- Second, receive. Receive the gift of Jesus born for us, revealed to the nations represented so dramatically by the three Magi (and yes, we’ll get to each in turn of course!). Receive not only the star of Bethlehem (we discussed it earlier in the Great Convergence) but Jesus as our own Daystar, illuminating our lives this Epiphanytide. Receive the divine luminescence of the Babe in the manger illuming our own lives.
- Third, ponder.