The Epiphany, 6 January
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Note on the Readings
The readings from Isaiah and the Psalms speak of kings bringing tribute. It is perhaps worth noting, that Matthew does not say that they were kings, or even that they were Gentiles, and, contrary to his usual practice in his Infancy Narrative, does not refer to these passages from the Jewish Scriptures.

Note on the Feast
"Epiphany" is a word of Greek origin, related to such English words as "theophany," "phenotype," and "phenomenon." It means an appearance, a displaying, a showing forth, a making clear or public or obvious. On this day, Christians have traditionally celebrated the making known of Jesus Christ to the world.

Several events have been thought of as special instances of the making known of Our Lord, such as: His birth; the coming of the Magi; His Baptism; His first miracle at Cana. Current majority usage, at least in the West, celebrates His birth on 25 December, the coming of the Magi on 6 January, and His Baptism on the next Sunday. On the following Sundays up to the beginning of Lent, we remember Our Lord's public preaching of the kingdom, particularly the earlier stages of that preaching when opposition had not yet crystallized. On the Last Sunday after Epiphany (the Sunday before Lent), we commemorate the Transfiguration, the climax of this first phase of our Lord's public ministry.

Today, then, we commemorate the visit of the Magi, a token of the day when all the peoples of the earth will acknowledge Jesus Christ as Lord, God, and Savior. The visit of the Magi is recorded in the second chapter of Matthew. Magi (magoi), the Latin (Greek) plural of magus (magos), referred originally to the priests of Parsiism, the monotheistic religion preached in Persia by Zoroaster in about the sixth century BC. In later years it came to mean magicians, priests, physicians, scribes, scholars, or learned men. From it we derive our word "magic." The KJV Bible translates the word as "wise men." Matthew tells us how they came to Jerusalem and then to Bethlehem, and gave gifts to the infant Jesus. (For a discussion of whether this is a historical event, see the following discussions: part 1, part 2, part 3, part 4. Ignore the references to the Assumption of Moses. These are based on what turned out to be a bad translation. )

In poem and picture, the wise men came to be thought of as three kings, and in many countries (particularly Spanish-speaking ones), children receive gifts, not on 25 December, but on 6 January in memory of the gifts that the wise men brought to the Holy Child. Christian writers have interpreted the gold as a sign that Jesus is King, the Frankincense as a sign that He is God, and the myrrh (used in embalming) as a sign that He is by His death and Resurrection the Savior of the world. This imagery is found in the song, "We Three Kings of Orient Are." The three gifts are also understood a a sign of three responses that we ought to make to Christ. See the following hymn:

The Blessed Birth

That so thy Blessed Birth, O Christ,
might through the world be spread about,
the star appeared in the East,
whereby the Gentiles found thee out;
and offered thee Myrrh, Incense, Gold,
thy three-fold office to unfold.

Tears that from true repentance drop,
instead of Myrrh present will we:
for Incense we will offer up
our prayers and praises unto thee;
and bring for Gold each pious deed,
which doth from saving faith proceed.

And as those wise men never went
to visit Herod any more,
so, finding thee, we will repent
our courses followed heretofore;
and that we homeward may retire
the way by thee we will enquire.

George Wither (1588-1667) in his Hymnes and Songs of the Church, 1623

There is a musical setting by H. Walford Davies (1869-1941).

Hynm for the Epiphany Season midi at

Songs of thankfulness and praise, Jesus, Lord, to thee we raise,
manifested by the star to the sages from afar;
Branch of royal David's stem in thy birth at Bethlehem;
anthems be to thee addrest, God in man made manifest.

Manifest at Jordan's stream, Prophet, Priest, and King supreme;
and at Cana, wedding guest, in thy Godhead manifest;
manifest in power divine, changing water into wine;
anthems be to thee addrest, God in man made manifest.

Manifest in making whole palsied limbs and fainting soul;
manifest in valiant fight, quelling all the devil's might;
manifest in gracious will, ever bringing good from ill;
anthems be to thee addrest, God in man made manifest.

Manifest on mountain height, shining in resplendent light,
where disciples filled with awe thy transfigured glory saw.
When from thence thou leddest them steadfast to Jerusalem,
cross and Easter day attest God in man made manifest.

Grant us grace to see thee, Lord, mirrored in thy holy word;
may we imitate thee now, and be pure, as pure art 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 (1807-1885)
Stanza Four by F. Bland Tucker (1895-1984)

written by James Kiefer


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 for ever. Amen.