To many Christians today, the word “epiphany” last lost its meaning.  Most Christians recognize that it’s mentioned in January and has something to do with the wise men.  And that’s it.  To Christians in the past it was an important event to celebrate—important enough to pick January 6th as the date to celebrate it on.  So what is so special about Epiphany?  Why is it so important for us to celebrate and remember it?  What is the meaning behind the celebration?

First of all, let us take a look at the word, “epiphany.”  What is an “epiphany?”  We talk about a person “having an epiphany,”—a sudden realization or a breakthrough discovery.  It’s the “light bulb coming on” experience.  Some call it the “Aha!” moment.  That meaning is somewhat connected to what we want to talk about today.  The word “epiphany” itself comes from a Greek word that means “to appear.”  The Greek word literally means, “shine forth” and when something has light shining on it.  So epiphany can mean “appearance” or “manifestation.”

The Epiphany that we celebrate is both a realization and a manifestation that comes to us from God.  God makes himself known through the revelation of his Word, the Bible.  There he reveals himself to us and manifested himself in his Son Jesus as our Savior.  It is only because God revealed this to us in his Word that we know it.  It is only because God gives us an “epiphany” that we know anything about him.

But why are the wise men (Magi) associated with Epiphany?  It is because they had an epiphany in a couple different ways.  As recorded in Matthew 2, a star “appeared” to wise men from the East.  God literally made a star appear to the wise men to guide them to Jerusalem.  God revealed the path by “shining forth” a star to guide them.  The appearance of the star led them to the appearance (“manifestation”) of the Christ, the one born king of the Jews.  They would not have found him on their own, but God did an “epiphany” for them.

The star was an epiphany, but it wasn’t the first epiphany the wise men had received.  Long before the wise men came to Bethlehem, the Israelites had been in captivity in the East where the wise men were from.  It must have been from their Hebrew Scriptures that the wise men heard the prophecy about the king of the Jews.  “A star will come out of Jacob…A ruler will come out of Jacob” (Number 24:17-19).

These wise men were wise men, but this information could only be revealed by God.  That prophecy only led them so far.  Human reason led them to Jerusalem, where they expected to find a great king of Israel.  Yet Jerusalem was the wrong place.  They needed God to reveal more details to them.  And there in Jerusalem more detail was revealed to them in Scripture.  Another prophecy guided them to Bethlehem where they found the Christ child.  “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” (Micah 5:2, 4).  God used the Scriptures, not just a star, to do an epiphany for these wise men.  Otherwise, they would have been in the dark.

January 6th is the date that was chosen to celebrate Jesus, the king of the Jews, appearing to the wise men.  A date was chosen to celebrate this event because this event was so important to early Christians.  The wise men were the first Gentiles to see Jesus (Gentiles are people who are from non-Jewish origin).  Beforehand God had only chosen to reveal his himself to his chosen people, Israel.  Now God chose to reveal his himself to all people!

God had to reveal this information because all people were born into this world not knowing who God was.  The same is true for today.  All people in the world really should know who God is if he was passed down from generation to generation.  Yet many people who came before us chose not to bother with God.  As a result of that failed transmission, many people born in the dark stay in the dark.

Why is the celebration of Epiphany so important to us?  It is by his grace that God revealed himself to us, Gentiles.  “The people walking in darkness have seen a great light; on those living in the land of the shadow of death a light has dawned” (Isaiah 9:2).  That is who we were.  We were living in darkness because we did not know who God was and we didn’t know where to find him.  Even if we did realize that there is a God, we would not know who he really is or how we get right with him.  Like the rest of the people of this world, we’d be groping around in the dark and still end up in death.

But God revealed himself to us by shining his light for us in his Word, in his gospel.  It is through Christ that we know who God is.  It is through Christ we know God is for us, loves us, forgives our sins and rescues us from death and damnation!  That is why Epiphany is so important.  That is why early Christians decided it was important to set a date to celebrate it.  God manifested himself in his Son Jesus so that we could have light and salvation!

Within the last couple decades, Epiphany worship services have faded away for most churches.  Not every Christian has found it important to celebrate Epiphany on January 6th every year.  Even here at Holy Scripture this blog post is the only celebration we are holding this year.  After a month of midweek Advent services, a midweek Christmas Eve and Christmas service, and a midweek New Years Eve service, we may feel “churched out.”  This is unfortunate.

Yet we have good news!  We have the season of Epiphany to celebrate which begins this Sunday (always the Sunday after January 6th).  Depending on when Easter is we get to celebrate up to nine Sundays in Epiphany.  This year we get to celebrate five Sundays.  Perhaps next year we will choose to celebrate Epiphany on January 6th or at least the Sunday after.  But as for this year, let us all realize what Epiphany is and appreciate what it means to us.


Here are the readings for your worship preparation:

Worship Theme – “The Anointed is Revealed!”

The First Lesson – 1 Samuel 16:1-13
The shepherd boy, David, is anointed with oil by the prophet Samuel to show that he is set apart to be the next king of Israel. The Holy Spirit came upon him with power.

The Second Lesson – Titus 3:4-7
We have been anointed with water and the Word in our baptism to show that we have been saved and set apart to be holy and righteous.  The Holy Spirit came upon us with power.

The Gospel Lesson – Luke 3:15-17, 21, 22 
Jesus was anointed by John the Baptist in his baptism to show that he was set apart to be the Messiah, the Savior of the world. The Holy Spirit came upon him with power.