Yesterday, we celebrated the Epiphany, often seen simply as the day the Wise men arrive to see Jesus. But the Epiphany has a deeper, more profound purpose for us. And the root is found in the word chosen more than 1,700 years ago for the day.
Epiphany, from the ancient Greek, means “manifestation”. For us, to celebrate the Epiphany means we celebrate the very manifestation of GOD in Christ: as in the Word made flesh.
Epiphany also has an awe-inducing, striking appearance character to the word. In the Epiphany, GOD provokes us to see that GOD has been revealed to us in Jesus.
BOOM! GOD is with us! Now!
Note how the “manifestation” of GOD is different than the “incarnation” of GOD we celebrate at Christmas. In the Incarnation, we celebrate that the Word became human in the form of a baby boy. In the Manifestation/Epiphany, we celebrate that GOD has been revealed to us in Jesus.
A Holy Trinity
Epiphany is the oldest of the church’s principal feasts. Dating to the Third Century, Epiphany held a most prominent place in the lives of early Christians, particularly in the East. Two other principal feasts arrived in the succeeding centuries, making a celebratory Trinity in worship of Epiphany, Easter, and Pentecost.
Far from the more prominent feasts in many Christians’ minds, which focus on their literal character and captivating storylines, Christmas and Holy Week were a much later church development.
This trio of holidays: Epiphany, Easter, and Pentecost: have a less defined and amorphous character. They are much less appealing to the Modernist mind, which focuses on the metaphysics and scientific justifiability of our theology and practice. To the Modernist, the revelation of GOD made manifest is a question of how—as in how is GOD particularly revealed—rather than the striking notion that GOD is revealed.
In my thinking about these three feasts, they together reveal a big idea about GOD’s working in the world. In the Epiphany, we celebrate the manifestation of GOD—as GOD reveals GOD to humanity. In Easter, we celebrate the transformation of the world—as GOD transforms the very nature of humanity in life and death. In Pentecost, we celebrate our partnership in transformation—that the Spirit has come into the world to provoke us as Her partners.
Taken together, these three feasts form a singular arc—a story of the new thing GOD has ushered into the world—a revealing of GOD’s participation, a new life in a new world, and a GOD/human partnership in future transformation. They reveal to us a provoking spirit and a powerful relationship between GOD and humanity.
This arc begins with a revelation of GOD: a manifestation.