The Meaning of the Epiphany   1 comment

Above:  Seventh-Century Mosaic of the Magi from the Basilica of Sant’Apollinare Nuovo, Ravenna, Italy

Image Source = Nina-No

(http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/File:Magi_(1).jpg)

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Isaiah 60:1-6 (New Revised Standard Version):

Arise, shine; for your light has come,

and the glory of the LORD has risen upon you.

For darkness shall cover the earth,

and thick darkness the peoples;

but the LORD will arise upon you,

and his glory will appear over you.

Lift up your eyes and look around;

they all gather together, they come to you;

your sons shall come from far away,

and your daughters shall be carried on their nurses’ arms.

Then you shall see and be radiant;

your heart shall thrill and rejoice,

because the abundance of the sea shall be brought to you,

the wealth of the nations shall come to you.

A multitude of camels shall cover you,

the young camels of Midian and Ephah;

all those from Sheba shall come.

They shall bring gold and frankincense,

and shall proclaim the praise of the LORD.

Psalm 72:1-14 (New Revised Standard Version):

Give the king your justice, O God,

and your righteousness to a king’s son.

May he judge your people with righteousness;

and your poor with justice.

May the mountains yield prosperity for the people,

and the hills, in righteousness.

May he defend the cause of the poor of the people,

give deliverance to the needy,

and crush the oppressor.

May he live while the sun endures,

and as long as the moon, throughout all generations.

May he be like rain that falls on the mown grass,

like showers that water the earth.

In his days may righteousness flourish

and peace abound, until the moon is no more.

May he have dominion from sea to sea,

and from the River to the ends of the earth.

May his foes bow down before him,

and his enemies lick the dust.

May the kings of Tarshish and the isles render him tribute,

may the kings of Sheba and Seba bring gifts.

May all kings fall down before him,

all nations give him service.

For he delivers the needy when they call,

the poor and those who have no helper.

He has pity on the week and the needy,

and saves the lives of the needy.

From oppression and violence he redeems their life;

and precious is their blood in his sight.

Ephesians 3:1-12 (New Revised Standard Version):

This is the reason that I Paul am a prisoner for Christ Jesus for the sake of you Gentiles– for surely you have already heard of the commission of God’s grace that was given me for you, and how the mystery was made known to me by revelation, as I wrote above in a few words, a reading of which will enable you to perceive my understanding of the mystery of Christ. In former generations this mystery was not made known to humankind, as it has now been revealed to his holy apostles and prophets by the Spirit: that is, the Gentiles have become fellow heirs, members of the same body, and sharers in the promise in Christ Jesus through the gospel.

Of this gospel I have become a servant according to the gift of God’s grace that was given me by the working of his power. Although I am the very least of all the saints, this grace was given to me to bring to the Gentiles the news of the boundless riches of Christ, and to make everyone see what is the plan of the mystery hidden for ages in God who created all things; so that through the church the wisdom of God in its rich variety might now be made known to the rulers and authorities in the heavenly places. This was in accordance with the eternal purpose that he has carried out in Christ Jesus our Lord, in whom we have access to God in boldness and confidence through faith in him.

Matthew 2:1-12 (New Revised Standard Version):

In the time of King Herod, after Jesus was born in Bethlehem of Judea, wise men from the East came to Jerusalem, asking, “Where is the child who has been born king of the Jews? For we observed his star at its rising, and have come to pay him homage.” When King Herod heard this, he was frightened, and all Jerusalem with him; and calling together all the chief priests and scribes of the people, he inquired of them where the Messiah was to be born. They told him,

In Bethlehem of Judea; for so it has been written by the prophet:

“And you, Bethlehem, in the land of Judah,

are by no means least among the rulers of Judah;

for from you shall come a ruler

who is to shepherd my people Israel.”

Then Herod secretly called for the wise men and learned from them the exact time when the star had appeared. Then he sent them to Bethlehem, saying,

Go and search diligently for the child; and when you have found him, bring me word so that I may also go and pay him homage.

When they had heard the king, they set out; and there, ahead of them, went the star that they had seen at its rising, until it stopped over the place where the child was. When they saw that the star had stopped, they were overwhelmed with joy. 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. And having been warned in a dream not to return to Herod, they left for their own country by another road.

The Collect:

O God, by the leading of a star you manifested your only Son to the peoples of the earth: Lead us, who know you now by faith, to your presence, where we may see your glory face to face; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever. Amen.

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Contrary to certain traditions, the Feast of the Epiphany (January 6) is the appropriate time to discuss the Magi, or the Wise Men from the Matthew gospel.  As that date approaches I ponder them.

Put nativity scenes out of your mind, for they are inaccurate.  The shepherds come from the Lukan narrative.  The Magi appear only in Matthew’s account, set in Bethlehem at a different time.  Matthew 2:11 (Jerusalem Bible) reads:  “…and going into the house they saw the child and his mother Mary, and falling on their knees they did him homage.  Then, opening their treasures, they offered him gifts of gold and frankincense and myrrh.”  The key word is “house.”  The Magi entered a house, not a cave or a stall.

Time had passed since the birth of Jesus.

Another marker of time comes later in the Matthew telling.  After the Magi did not revisit him in his palace, Herod the Great ordered the Massacre of the Innocents, or the murder of all male children two years old or younger in and around  Bethlehem.  Herod, a Roman client king, owed his position to the Emperor of Rome.  (The Romans ruled parts of their empire directly and other regions of it via local officials.  The British followed the same mixed strategy much later.  Think about how the governed India, for example.)  Herod the Great was a mean, violent, and troubled man who ordered the deaths of family members and strangers alike, so the story has historical feasibility.  And the order to kill boys two years old or younger implies that Jesus was about two years old at the time.

So, who where these Magi?  And what did the see in the night sky?

The Magi (the Bible does not indicate how many traveled to find Jesus, only that that there were at least two of them, as “magi” is plural) were most likely member of an elite class of Zoroastrian priests from the Parthian Empire.  They were astrologers and academics who tutored the ruling classes of the empire.   (Carols and discredited traditions say they were kings, but let us file those under “artistic license.”)  Acceptance of astrology was widespread in those days.  Today we rationalistic, post-Enlightenment types label astrology a pseudo-science and rank it with palm reading and phrenology, as we should.  Yet that is beside the point.

The Magi spent much time observing the night skies closely.  Thus they noticed when something changed.  Also, they associated the planet Jupiter with royalty.  The most likely candidate for the Star of Bethlehem is the conjunction of Jupiter with another planet, the identity of which is the subject of much discussion and debate.  This astronomical event meant enough to the some of these priests that they planned a prolonged journey, probably a two-years long round trip.    They sought a king, and they found one.

So this is what troubled Herod the Great, whose claim to his throne was shaky.

The gifts are significant, too.  Gold, a precious metal, befits a king.  Frankincense  has religious meaning, as in one ‘s prayers rising to God like incense.  And Myrrh is a bitter perfume.  Messiah 101:  The Messiah must die.  “Take up your cross and follow me.”  People, many of whom might be close to you, will reject you because you follow Jesus.  You might even become a martyr.  The pathway of faith can be full of grief and difficulty.

The Encarta World English Dictionary defines “epiphany” as follows:

1.  the manifestation of a divine being

2.  a sudden intuitive leap of understanding, especially through an ordinary but striking occurence.

The Incarnation of God in human form fulfills the first definition.  Yet what about the second meaning?  What did the Magi understand?  I do not know the answer to that question.  Yet their visit indicates the manifestation of God incarnate to Gentiles.

God is incarnating around us today.  Do we recognize this?  Which epiphanies will we experience today and subsequent days?  And how will these epiphanies transform us?

Pax vobiscum.

KENNETH RANDOLPH TAYLOR

JUNE 8, 2010 COMMON ERA 

THE FEAST OF ROLAND ALLEN, ANGLICAN MISSIONARY

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Adapted from this post:

http://adventchristmasepiphany.wordpress.com/2010/09/15/first-day-of-epiphany-feast-of-the-epiphany-january-6/

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One response to “The Meaning of the Epiphany

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  1. Pingback: First Day of Epiphany: Feast of the Epiphany (January 6) « ADVENT, CHRISTMAS, AND EPIPHANY DEVOTIONS BY KENNETH RANDOLPH TAYLOR

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