The celebration of Epiphany is the culmination of the Twelve Days of Christmas. The word literally means “revelation” or “sudden unveiling,” and Epiphany commemorates the day when wise men from the East came to Bethlehem, guided by the miraculous star. The magi, it seems, were the first to comprehend that Jesus was not merely the fulfillment of Jewish hopes, but the Light of the World, the joy of every man’s desiring. They beheld the glory of God in the City of David, the Savior was born. Epiphany is the celebration of that good news.
In Epiphany, we not only see the unveiling of the good news of Christ to the wise men, but the unveiling of Christ to the nations; the proclamation of salvation to all the nations. And, what good news it is! It begins with the wise men, but goes so much further.
In Acts chapter 10, Peter has the strange vision in which he is commanded to eat the unclean animals, and comes to understand that God is speaking, not just of food, but of the Gentiles themselves. In verses 34-35, Peter says, “Truly I understand that God shows no partiality, but in every nation anyone who fears him and does what is right is acceptable to him.”
Paul makes a similar declaration in Ephesians 3. There he refers to himself as an apostle to the Gentiles and says that it has been given to him to proclaim the “mystery of the Gospel.” In verse 6, he says, “This mystery is that the Gentiles are fellow heirs, members of the same body, and partakers of the promise in Christ Jesus through the gospel.”
There are numerous other passages that could be examined in light of this, but one more will suffice to echo the beauty of this; that God would extend His mercy and redemption beyond Israel to all the nations; that He would graft us in through the death and resurrection of His Son, Jesus. Ephesians 2:11-16 says:
Therefore remember that at one time you Gentiles in the flesh, called “the uncircumcision” by what is called the circumcision, which is made in the flesh by hands — remember that you were at that time separated from Christ, alienated from the commonwealth of Israel and strangers to the covenants of promise, having no hope and without God in the world. But now in Christ Jesus you who once were far off have been brought near by the blood of Christ. For he himself is our peace, who has made us both one and has broken down in his flesh the dividing wall of hostility by abolishing the law of commandments expressed in ordinances, that he might create in himself one new man in place of the two, so making peace, and might reconcile us both to God in one body through the cross, thereby killing the hostility.
We were once “separated” and “alienated” from Christ, but now we “who once were far off have been brought near by the blood of Christ.” How wonderful! “He himself is our peace,” and He has tore down the walls of separation that once divided Jew from Gentile, bringing us together as His one people. Christ has “reconciled us…to God in one body through the cross.” That is what Epiphany is all about! That is why it matters!
So, now what are we to do? How should we or could we celebrate Epiphany? Scripture does not give us specific requirements that must be observed in celebrating Epiphany, but Church history is quite helpful here. So, here are some ideas and principles to keep in mind.
- Be sure to teach your children – The days God commanded Israel to observe were opportunities for teaching the children. Why do we observe this day? Why are we doing these things? Teach your children about Epiphany so it doesn’t become a simple matter of routine, but a true tradition.
- Feast & celebrate – If you study Epiphany throughout Church history, you will see that one thing is certain: it is a day of feasting. In fact, while there is no set menu, the common elements were beer and wine, lots of chocolate, and a King’s Cake (some quite elaborate and others quite simple). Christmas decorations are often taken down on Epiphany, but amid the singing of carols and hymns. Even though the decorations come down, they come down in celebration that the Light of the World has come and, though the season ends, life in the light of Christ continues.
- Remember & be thankful – Israel observed special days so they would not forget (the most common sin they are charged with in the Old Testament), and we too must learn to remember the goodness of God. Epiphany is a time to celebrate the good news that Christ has come to save. He has extended His grace even to us Gentiles, grafting us into the true olive tree, making us the new Israel, reconciling us to God by the cross. Remember and be thankful!