The Purpose of Epiphany
The Epiphany, the twelfth day of Christmas, or the Gentile Christmas as many have called it, is a festival rich in meaning. Many of our Christmas celebrations actually sprung from this day. We light Christmas lights and put stars on trees as a reminder of the light of the star that the Magi followed. We also exchange gifts, a reminder that the Magi brought gifts to Christ, their King, who Himself was the greatest gift of all, God the Father’s gift to mankind. This is a day and season to mark well, worthy of its adorning customs, as Christ is revealed as God and Man for us and for all.
On Epiphany, or January 6th of our calendar year, we celebrate the day when men, made wise for salvation through the Word, met their righteousness, even as we meet Him still today, wrapped in the Scriptures. He is Jesus, He who saves. This was the whole reason for the Scriptures. This was where all the prophecies were meant to ultimately lead. This was why the Jewish people were set apart, as from their line the Savior of the nations would come. Jesus was the whole point. The recent commemoration of Jesus name on January 1st reminds us of this, that His very name means Savior.
His own, who should have known the prophecies the best and recognized Him first, did not bother greeting Him. In fact, some acted against Him. As those who have been baptized and instructed, we do well to take the warning. What a commentary it is when others who have never known the Lord before come to Him with a greater depth than we do, rejoicing in the freedom of the Gospel as we pine for the onions of Egypt and begrudge them their joy. Or, even more, put a religious veneer on this begrudging. These men had missed Christmas, but Christmas was still for them. And it’s still for all, whether or not they’ve been around before.
He was revealed by a star, a light in the sky, from which we get the custom of Christmas lights and stars on trees as I mentioned earlier. He is the light of the world, and the heavens, from which He came to rescue those on earth, proclaim His birth. And this light He shines is not primarily a light to expose, to shame and indict, but a light that guides our way to salvation, because He is the Way.
These men, the visiting Magi, came from the East. They were not Jews, but Gentiles. Christ has come to save all. No one should think they are beyond His reach or grace. God wants none to be lost, but all to come to a knowledge of His Son, His mercy. We should never hesitate to assume this is true for others, or of ourselves.. There is no Christian type. There are sinners who need saving, among whom we are chief. We are not sinners without a Savior nor without hope.
These men bring gifts. This infant Child is also a King, worthy of their best, and so they bring Him precious presents. They bring myrrh and burial ointment, for Him who will die for their sins. They bring gold for the King of the Universe, tiny and helpless though He appeared. They bring frankincense for the greatest of the prophets, the Prophet from among the Jews foretold by Moses, whose prayers, like incense, arise before the heavenly Father and intercede for us. So also, we do well to bring our Lord gifts worthy of His person and work. Even better, He brings them from us, indeed, turns us into them, making us His living sacrifices imbued with worship in even our most mundane vocations, our daily life.
Notice also, they were not disturbed by His humble circumstances. They received Him as He chose to come to them, as a Jewish infant in the little town of Bethlehem. They might have pictured God differently in the past, and they might have expected something quite different from what they found, but when they encountered Christ, even if it was with Him lying in a manger and wrapped in swaddling cloths, they rejoiced and welcomed Him. We are called to do the same, to receive Him as He comes, ever so simply, in Word and Sacrament, because He comes for our benefit, for the increase of our faith, and for our life everlasting. And would we really rather He come another way? No, He would be a terror, a holy terror. And so He comes in flesh to draw us to Himself, hiding His divinity and knowing our humanity full well.
The recent commemoration of Jesus name on January 1st reminds us of this, that His very name means Savior. At Epiphany, we celebrate that this Jesus is for everyone, even me, even you, whether or not we had a “good” Christmas, whether or not we’ve been “good” Christians or Christians at all. A good Christian, after all, is one who trusts this Child, who receives this gift, who sees his or her true identity in this Jewish Child who still draws people from every edge and corner of the earth to Himself, not for Himself, but because He is for them.