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EPIPHANY

 

The name Epiphany comes from a Greek word meaning “manifestation” or “appearance.” This festival originated in the third century as a celebration of Jesus’ baptism (Matt. 3:13–17) and retains this character in the Eastern church. In the West, however, from the fourth century, it has commemorated the revelation of Jesus Christ to the Gentiles, represented in Scripture by the “wise men,” or magi, who made a long journey to see the “King of the Jews” (Matt. 2:1–12). Although many churches incorporate the visit of the magi into their Christmas pageantry, the journey took place some time after the birth of Jesus, perhaps months later. In the traditional Western calendar Epiphany falls on January 6. The magi, as known from other historical sources, were a class of Persian priests and astrologers, which harmonizes with the account of their following a new star to Bethlehem.

 

The Bible does not say there were three of them; the number is inferred from their threefold gifts to the infant Jesus—gold, frankincense, and myrrh. Neither does the gospel story indicate that they were kings who rode on camels. This idea comes from Isaiah 60:1–6, a passage that proclaims a theophany, or appearance of the Lord’s glory, over Israel: “Nations will come to your light, and kings to the brightness of your dawn.… ” Camels are mentioned later in connection with the bringing of gifts of gold and frankincense (cf. Ps. 72:10–11). The giving of gifts at Christmas is sometimes related to the gifts of the magi, but the practice actually originated in pagan customs associated with festivals such as the Roman Saturnalia. Although some have seen a symbolic significance in the gifts of the magi (cf. the carol “We Three Kings”), this is not developed in Scripture.

 

In the imagery of Epiphany, the magi represent the Gentiles, to whom the Savior is now revealed. They are, in fact, the first people said to “worship” (bow down to) Christ. The union of Jew and Gentile in the new covenant of Christ is the great mystery celebrated by the apostle Paul and of which he called himself the steward (Eph. 3:1–7). Although the meaning of Jesus Christ and his embodiment of the new covenant, the kingdom of God, cannot be fully understood apart from the background of the faith of Israel, neither can it be understood apart from its universal significance for people of all cultures and ethnic groups. Epiphany is a useful vehicle by which the church may remind itself of this truth and of its mandate for worldwide evangelization (Matt. 28:18–20).

 

Source: Webber, R. (1993). The Biblical foundations of Christian worship (1st ed.) (198). Nashville, Tenn.: Star Song Pub. Group.

 


This article was published on Thursday 30 December, 2010.

Back to main topic: STUDY THE WORD OF GOD
ADULTERY
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