Each year on Jan. 6, the Church celebrates Epiphany. Do you know what the ancient word means and how to experience epiphany every day?
There’s a story about a Sunday church service when the children were called forward for a short message. Everyone in the congregation watched with joy as the little ones tripped down the aisles in their dresses and bows, sweaters and ties, their little feet moving excitedly to reach the front of the sanctuary.
The pastor sat down on the floor in front of the pulpit to see from their perspective. When the children arrived and sat down on the red carpet—some leaning against the altar, some sitting next to the pastor—they all looked at the children’s minister, a kind woman with a calm voice.
She said to them, “Does anyone know how the wise men found the baby Jesus on that night so long … ?”
And before she could finish her question, a little boy, maybe 5 years old, jumped up on both feet and yelled, “Star!”
It took a few minutes for the laughter to die down from the congregation. Somebody had taught this little boy the story of the wise men who took a long journey to see the baby Jesus, an event celebrated as Epiphany on the Christian calendar. And this little guy was excited. He knew how the wise men had found their way.
On the Lookout for God
The Bible says, “The star that they had seen when it rose went before them until it came to rest over the place where the child was. When they saw the star, they rejoiced exceedingly with great joy. And going into the house, they saw the child with Mary his mother, and they fell down and worshiped him” (Matthew 2:9-10, ESV).
The wise men were some of the first people to worship Jesus as Lord. But because it takes some time to travel—and back in Jesus’ day, there were no GPS systems or online mapping services, much less, cars—the Christian calendar places Epiphany on Jan. 6, 12 nights after the celebration of Jesus’ birth.
Journeying perhaps 500 miles or more, the wise men sought after the Christ child, following the prophecies from Hebrew Scripture, specifically those from the book of Micah.
In the fifth chapter of Micah, Scripture says, “But you, O Bethlehem Ephrathah, who are too little to be among the clans of Judah, from you shall come forth for me one who is to be ruler in Israel“ (Micah 5:2, ESV).
God’s people were the Jewish people, the people of Israel. But the the wise men were not Jewish. They came from the east and were known as “magi,” or people educated in the ways of astrology. They were pagan, or pre-Christian; but they also knew that the prophets had foretold the birth of the King of the Jews in Bethlehem.
The Presence of God
When the magi saw Jesus, they fell down and worshiped Him. They had brought precious gifts with them for the child, who they recognized as a king appointed not by people or family name, but by God. They had an epiphany, or a sudden insight into the true nature of something. They realized that they were in the presence of God.
Theophany, a theological term, also describes the wise men’s experience that night: a moment when God manifests Himself to the world. The birth of Christ represents the introduction of God’s Spirit into human form, or incarnate.
And this incarnation of God, the man Jesus Christ, had arrived for the sake of all people—Jews as well as non-Jews, or Gentiles.
The wise men were Gentiles, but they were on the lookout for God, searching for Him in Scripture, listening for Him in the words of the prophets, and watching for signs of His revelation on earth. And through Christ, they were able to become God’s people as well.
A New Light
When you look at something that you may have known about for a long time, and suddenly you realize that it is very special, much more meaningful than you’ve ever acknowledged; then at that moment, you’ve had an epiphany.
You’ve uncovered something that was there all along, but was hiding, in a sense, just below the surface. It wasn’t so obvious. It took a second look.
The magi realized that Jesus was their king, too, so they went out of their way to yield to Him and bring Him the praise that He deserved. Recognizing Jesus as King is the ultimate realization that anyone can have—it’s a life-changing epiphany.
Epiphany Moments: God in the Everyday
At this time of the year, life can seem a little lonely or dreary. The Christmas trees have been taken down, lights packed away and wrapping paper trashed. Children have played with their new toys until they don’t seem new anymore, and the New Year has come and gone. You already may have broken a resolution.
But the joy of Christmas isn’t over yet because we can choose to recognize the mercy of God in the everyday stuff. With open hearts and expectant outlooks, believers can have epiphany moments any day.
Try looking at life through the eyes of a child who is so excited about the Christmas story that he can’t contain himself. Or see the events of the day through the eyes of a traveler who has journeyed many miles to find something very small, new and precious.
In fact, Jesus commanded that His followers have this kind of wide-eyed faith.