Reflections on Epiphany

On January 6, the 12th day of Christmas, we celebrate Epiphany. The word “Epiphany” comes from the Greek word, epiphaneia, which means “that which is revealed” or “the manifestation.” This day celebrates the time that Mary and Joseph were visited by three Magi, referred to in some traditions as wise men or kings. In Spanish-speaking countries, at least at one time, this was the day that children received Christmas presents, not from Santa, but from the three Wise Men. In other countries, this day is celebrated with a King Cake, such as in France, the Galette des Rois.

In the United States, perhaps, this day has dwindled in importance next to the festivities of Christmas and not many people I know of celebrate it any more.

But we should revive that custom, and honor it! because it was an important occasion in the life of the young Christ child. Here is an illustration of their journey from one of my childhood books, The Christmas Story, illustrated by Eloise Wilkin.

The magi, as you doubtless know, followed a star to see the newborn king that their studies had revealed. At that time, Persian priests studied astrology and it’s possible that these visitors from the East were members of this group.

They brought gifts of gold, frankincense of myrrh. But their greatest gift was a warning. They had discerned that Herod had malevolent intentions. They were able to warn Mary and Joseph to take their child and leave the country. This warning saved the life of the young Jesus. Here is the story, as recounted by Matthew.


The Magi Visit the Messiah

After Jesus was born in Bethlehem in Judea, during the time of King Herod, Magi from the east came to Jerusalem and asked, “Where is the one who has been born king of the Jews? We saw his star when it rose and have come to worship him.”

When King Herod heard this he was disturbed, and all Jerusalem with him. When he had called together all the people’s chief priests and teachers of the law, he asked them where the Messiah was to be born.

“In Bethlehem in Judea,” they replied, “for this is what the prophet has written:

But you, Bethlehem, in the land of Judah,
are by no means least among the rulers of Judah;
for out of you will come a ruler
who will shepherd my people Israel.

Then Herod called the Magi secretly and found out from them the exact time the star had appeared. He sent them to Bethlehem and said, “Go and search carefully for the child. As soon as you find him, report to me, so that I too may go and worship him.”

After they had heard the king, they went on their way, and the star they had seen when it rose went ahead of them until it stopped over the place where the child was.

When they saw the star, they were overjoyed.

On coming to the house, they saw the child with his mother Mary, and they bowed down and worshiped him. Then they opened their treasures and presented him with gifts of gold, frankincense and myrrh.

And having been warned in a dream not to go back to Herod, they returned to their country by another route.


There is so much to unpack in this story of joy and fear. You recall that Joseph received a divine message in a dream. And then the Magi also received the blessing of a divine message in a dream. All of these, and other events, converged to ensure that a little child survived to fulfill his destiny.

Tonight, let’s give thanks for the kind and brave Magi. And let’s also reflect about what meaning this story may hold in this new year.

The Magi were studious, wise, discerning, committed, courageous and generous. They turned away from the power and influence of Herod, possibly at risk to their own lives, to do the right thing by the Holy Family. Above all, they had faith.

How can you emulate the values of the Magi in your own life?

  • What can you take from this story that would be relevant to your own life?
  • Epiphany, as mentioned, means “reveal” or “manifest.” This marks a time in the life of Jesus when he was revealed to be more than an ordinary child. What is being revealed to you at this time? What will you manifest in the new year?
  • In your lifetime, which wise helpers set you on a safe path?
  • What gifts were you given to ensure your way was smooth?
  • Who has believed in you and your future?

Here is a carol about the Magi; one of my favorite carols, since I was very young. It is the 12th day of Christmas and not too late for one more carol as we end the Christmas season. I am sure you agree with me that these unsung heroes need to be sung! I hope you enjoy it and find meaning and hope in it. God bless you.


1 We three kings of Orient are;
bearing gifts we traverse afar,
field and fountain, moor and mountain,
following yonder star.

Refrain:
O star of wonder, star of light,
star with royal beauty bright,
westward leading, still proceeding,
guide us to thy perfect light.

2 Born a King on Bethlehem’s plain,
Gold I bring to crown him again,
King forever, ceasing never,
over us all to reign. [Refrain]

3 Frankincense to offer have I;
incense owns a Deity nigh;
prayer and praising, voices raising,
worshiping God on high. [Refrain]

4 Myrrh is mine; its bitter perfume
breathes a life of gathering gloom;
sorrowing, sighing, bleeding, dying,
sealed in the stone-cold tomb. [Refrain]

5 Glorious now behold him arise;
King and God and sacrifice:
Alleluia, Alleluia,
sounds through the earth and skies. [Refrain]

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