Epiphany celebrates the extension of the message of God’s incarnation to the whole world, not merely the religious and cultural community in which Jesus was born.
The arrival of the Wise Men, these wondering astrologers, signals that the reach of God’s embrace is broadening considerably, that there is no longer “insider” and “outsider,” but that all are included in God’s plan for salvation. This isn’t a new theme in Judaism, as from the very beginning of the story God promises to bless Abraham that he may, in turn, be a blessing from the world. But now it is happening – all distinctions between people of different ethnicities and religions are dissolving. All are becoming one in Christ.
Following the Jewish shepherds summoned from the hillside come the Gentile sages from the East, drawn by their reading of Jewish prophecy. In the face of the indifference or anxiety of Jesus’ own people, the wise men come with one specific purpose, they come to ‘worship’.
Epiphany reminds us that it is often those from beyond our familiar community, those who are different from us, who discern most vividly and deeply the impact of Christ in the world.
In his Letter to the Ephesians, Paul suggests that the ultimate purpose of God is the unification of humanity in a community where all distinctions between “insiders” and “outsiders” have vanished. The Gospel message reminds us that such distinctions began to erode with the coming of Christ, who was revealed to some who were thought to be on the outside and paradoxically rejected by many who were thought to be on the inside.
The church’s observance of Epiphany is not a triumphal occasion to celebrate our privileged status as those who have seen the light. Instead we are encouraged to the humble admission that God’s glory may be manifested where we least expect it. Sometimes God’s people become light for others as the prophet Isaiah assures Israel: Nations shall come to your light, and kings to the brightness of your dawn. Isaiah 60:3
One of the central images of God’s communication in the scriptures is that of the shining face. From the priestly blessing of Numbers 6 to the continuous references in the psalms, it is expected that worshipers will see the radiance of God’s face, and that in its light they too will shine. And the Greek word for this radiance, this shining of the face, is epifaneia, or epiphany.
This Epiphany may we see our faith through the eyes of others and be open, as Mary and Joseph were, to the gifts they bring. As we celebrate the season of the Epiphany may we experience that radiance today and convey it to this community in the year and years to come.
Dean of Newcastle