What is Epiphany?


When you think about the word “epiphany”, what images or impressions come to mind? Of course, Christians think about the three magi (wise men or kings) seeking, finding and worshipping the Christ child.  But what other images, meanings or images come to mind?

Some people define epiphany as an appearance of a supernatural being. Others experience epiphany as a sudden, intuitive insight or understanding, something like a light bulb suddenly being turned on or having an “aha” experience. Still others view an epiphany as an unexpected, life changing event, something small or large that changes us forever. Some view an epiphany as a symbolic fork in the road, where one can later point to as a turning point. All of those images and meanings combined are helpful in understanding what Epiphany means to Christians.

Of the four Gospels, Matthew alone tells of the visit of the Magi, who brought gifts to the toddler Jesus. The Magi were the first gentiles to acknowledge Jesus as "King" and so were the first to reveal Jesus to a wider world as the incarnate Christ (even as a baby -  now that is something supernatural)!

The insight that we gain from this event is that Jesus came for all people (including you and me), for all nations, for all races, and that the work of God in the world would not be limited to just the Jews. That insight was one of the most difficult for the early followers of Jesus to grasp. But (aha) we gain this insight in one story that occurs so early in Christ’s life on earth.

One would have a difficult time denying that the birth and revelation of Jesus Christ have forever changed the world. It certainly had an impact on King Herod. He was frightened and disturbed (as was all of Jerusalem). He asked the chief priests and teachers of the law to tell him where Christ was born. He also encouraged the Magi to reveal the location of Christ (who Herod later tried to kill). We see now that the world was responding to Christ’s presence years before His ministry even began.

Finally, in this story of the Magi and King Herod we see a huge fork in the road, which for some even exists today. In King Herod we see fear, we see a reliance on the words of the prophets as interpreted by others, and we see lethal attempts to address threats to the institutions of the day. In the Magi we witness something new. We see journey and seeking, overwhelming joy and worship, and most of all we see faith. During this Epiphany Season we should respond as the Magi, in seeking the source of all hope, peace, joy and love – our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ.

The colors we use to celebrate Epiphany are usually white and gold – the colors of newness, hope and celebration – the same colors we use during Christmas and Easter Seasons and other special celebrations like Transfiguration, Holy Trinity, and All Saints Sundays. Look for those colors on the Altar, in the pastor’s stole and in church banners.