The Epiphany celebrates the birth of Jesus, and His baptism by John the Baptist. It remembers the visit made to the infant Jesus by the wise men (magi). God revealed himself to the World through the incarnation of Jesus, and according to the Gospel of Saint Matthew, the wise men offered him gifts of gold, frankincense and myrrh:-
On entering the house, they saw the child with Mary his mother; and they knelt down and paid him homage. Then, opening their treasure-chests, they offered him gifts of gold, frankincense, and myrrh.
In the Western churches, the Epiphany (manifestation) became an occasion to celebrate one element in the story of Christ’s birth, that is the visit of the far-travelled magi, understood as the manifestation of Christ to the Gentiles. Matthew’s account speaks simply of ‘wise men from the East’. Later tradition fixed their number at three, made them Kings and called them Caspar, Melchior and Balthasar.
In the Eastern churches, the Epiphany is the celebration of Christ’s baptism by John the Baptist. This was the time when the heavens opened, and a voice from heaven declared Jesus to be God’s beloved Son. This was then followed by the miracle of Cana in Galilee, where Jesus ‘first manifested his glory’:-
Manifest at Jordan’s stream,
Prophet, Priest, and King supreme;
and at Cana wedding-guest
in thy Godhead manifest.
The season of joyful celebration that started at Christmas carries on through Epiphany, and ends with the Feast of the Presentation (Candlemas) on Sunday the 3rd February 2019. In accordance with the Law of Israel, the child who was manifested to the wise men at his birth is presented in the Temple, where he is recognised by Simeon and Anna. He is both ‘a light to lighten the Gentiles’ and ‘the glory of God’s people Israel’. The redemption He will bring will be won through suffering, the Incarnation is directed to the Passion, and Simeon’s final words move our attention away from the celebration of Christmas, and towards the mysteries of Easter.
For the Church in Wales, the next season of Epiphany starts on Sunday 6th January 2019.