The Feast of the Epiphany
A reflection for at the start of the New Year
On 6th January, we celebrate the Epiphany of the Lord. It is the twelfth day of Christmas, and so traditionally the last day of this season of celebration. Epiphany literally means manifestation or appearance. The Gospel set for this day is the well-known story of the journey of the wise men, who after having followed a star find and recognise the child in Bethlehem, bringing with them gifts of gold, frankincense and myrrh.
This is Matthew’s version of the Christmas story: no stable, donkeys or shepherds, but instead a star, wise men and gifts. It is a story full of signs and significance all pointing towards aspects of Jesus’ identity: a star signalling the cosmic significance of his birth, the gift of gold indicating his royal status, and myrrh to foreshadow his suffering.
Although one could say that the revelation of Jesus’ identity is the main significance of the story, maybe also there is something more to say about the role the wise men play in this story, and how they may be a model for our own pattern of Christian living. The most obvious word that comes to mind this morning is probably ‘journey’. I’m afraid I think that the word journey has been used a bit too much, and although helpful at times, it can also feel a bit trite to talk about our Christian journey. Hence, this morning I would rather like to think in terms of attitude: the attitude of the wise men, and our own attitude in the way we approach God, and maybe even life more generally.
The three words that characterise the attitude of these travellers are trust, expectancy, and generosity. Trust, as they followed a star into the unknown. Expectancy, as they are overwhelmed with joy when they see that the star has stopped. And generosity, as they open their treasure-chests, to offer what they have brought. As obvious as these three, trust, expectancy and generosity, may sound, I suspect that nowadays they make for a rather counter-cultural attitude. Often for good reasons, we are told not to trust. We want security, safety and certainty. Of course, these are important, but I wonder if we would be that bit more free, as individuals and as a society, if we would be willing to trust just slightly more.
Also expectancy we don’t see much around us. It is easy to think in worst-case scenarios, again both individually and on a communal level. When we pick up a newspaper in the morning, do we expect good news? And how much good do we expect from our politicians this year? Of course, again, realism is not a bad thing, but would we be better off thinking a bit more hopefully? And finally generosity. The wise men brought extravagant gifts to an unknown situation. How ready are we to give when our own situation is unknown? Once more there is the counter-argument of wisely saving for our future, but I think also here we can forget how liberating real generosity can be.
So maybe in the coming year, instead of trying to achieve this or that by giving ourselves endless new-year resolutions, we can think in terms of our attitude: trust, expect and be generous. Because that is what will set us free to really see who God is, so what we also can be overwhelmed with joy as we find Him in our own lives.