January 6th is the traditional date for the celebration of the Feast of the Epiphany in the Catholic Church. Sometimes it is celebrated on a Sunday between January 2nd and January 8th depending on the diocese.
The word epiphany means “manifestation” or “revelation”. In the context of the Catholic Church, it relates to the arrival of the Magi (Wise men or Three Kings) and visiting the Christ child. It is one of the most important feasts of the liturgical year because God is revealed in the Person of Jesus Christ to the Gentiles.
I attended the Cathedral of the Epiphany, in Sioux City, IA, in the early days of my married life so this feast has special significance to my family. My oldest son was baptized in that church, and we formed the foundation of our family’s faith life as members of the Cathedral of the Epiphany.
From Meticulous Study to Marvel
While we sing about the Wisemen as Kings (We Three Kings is one of my favorite Christmastime songs) it is more apt to describe the travelers as Magi. They studied astronomy (mixed with a bit of astrology). The noticed something in the night sky and the unusuality of the Star intrigued them to journey East and stopping in Bethlehem. A more detailed description of the Magi can be found in the Related Links section at the end of this article.
Studying a subject as large and mysterious as the universe (represented by the night sky) puts into perspective our littleness. According to the late Pope Benedict XVI from his 2011 homily on the Feast of the Epiphany, ”
Probably to their (the Magi) amazement, they were obliged to note that this newborn Child was not found in the places of power and culture, even though in those places they were offered precious information about him.
On the other hand, they realized that power, even the power of knowledge, sometimes blocks the way to the encounter with this Child. The star then guided them to Bethlehem, a little town; it led them among the poor and the humble to find the King of the world.
God could have arrived as a scientist, or a mighty ruler, or a political leader. Instead, he chooses to humble himself in the form of an infant. The Magi receive the gift of wonder and awe from the Holy Spirit and persist in following the Star. They continue to receive gifts (of humility and reverence) even as they gift the Christ-child with gold, frankincense, and myrrh.
Epiphany Foreshadows Pentecost
The manifestation of Jesus to the Magi is a pivotal event in the liturgical calendar. The Magi represents the non-Jews. It is often taken for granted the fact Jesus is a savior for all mankind, but it was a novel concept to ancient Jews. The deacon at my parish hammered home the point that the Epiphany is about the salvation of mankind as a people. “Statistically speaking, you and I, are likely not descended from the Jews, so the Feast of the Epiphany is a reason to hope,” he proclaimed in his homily.
Jesus Christ revealed himself to the world at first as a baby and later in his public ministry he is more specific with his identity as being God. It is a wonderful feast to recall how Christ unites a confused and broken world.
I started listening to the Bible in a Year podcast by Father Mike Schmitz. Day five centered on Tower of Babel in Genesis 10-11. The pride of humanity spurred the creation (attempt) of an early skyscraper reaching the heavens.
Building a large tower is not bad in itself. Father Mike points out throughout church history Christians build massive basilicas and cathedrals for the glory of God. The key difference is Nimrod (the king of Babel) and his people’s ambition to make a name for themselves and not seek excellence in the name of God.
God Brings True Unity
Humanity’s pride leads to God scattering them by confusing the language. Generations later the event of Pentecost (the arrival of the Holy Spirit) reverses the effects of Babel. Peter and the Apostles are able to communicate the Good News in different languages. True unity doesn’t occur through human efforts but by humbling oneself and serving others for the glory of God.
The Magi don’t seek earthly ambition to prop up themselves. God’s manifestation to the Wisemen opens up the way for the Holy Spirit being revealed to the whole world on Pentecost.
How God Revealed Himself this Epiphany
The first Epiphany of Our Lord occurred over 2000 years ago. But this feast is as relevant today as it was for the Magi. God plan of salvation unfolded over time. It didn’t occur instantly nor stop with a singular kind of people. God is Love and desires to bridge all of the brokenness back into unity with Himself.
Your spiritual journey will rarely be in a linear or upward trajectory. It involves curves, backsteps, and countless zigzags. Think the Israelites’ 40 years in the wilderness. God revealed Himself in an interesting way to me this week of the Epiphany. In the story of a dog being turned into a toy by a wizard because he lacked manners. I’m referring to Tolkien’s endearing children’s tale: Roverandom. I began reading my kids this short story yesterday. I want to complete a few pages a night. And my ultimate goal is to have Roverandom serve as a springboard to Tolkien’s other work (notably The Hobbit).
God revealed Himself in a wonderful way during the reading aloud of this silly and enchanting story. My kids grew quiet and attentive. Something about J.R.R. Tolkien makes me ponder Truth, Goodness, and Beauty after reading any of his works. I’m convinced his imagination and storytelling is necessary to manifest Christ in the lives of others.
Start this Epiphany Tradition Now
Finally, the Feast of the Epiphany has inspired me to follow a longstanding Catholic tradition of marking your home’s door with a blessing. You may have seen the formula: 20 + C + M + B +23 pop up on your social media or parish bulletin. The initials stand for the names of the Wise Men: Caspar, Melchior, and Balthazar. The numbers bookending the formula represent the current year. And the pluses represent the cross. I also learned that the C, M, and B have another meaning. In Latin, it is short for Christmus mansionem benedicat (“May Christ bless the house”).
Invite Jesus into your home this Christmas season and look to Mary as your guide towards the Son. God will surprise you in how He shows up in your life.
Epiphany Blessing (One of Many Versions)
Leader: Peace be to this house, and to all who enter here.
One or more of the following prayers maybe said:
May all who come to our home this year rejoice to find Christ living among us; and may we seek and serve, in everyone we meet, that same Jesus who is your incarnate Word, now and forever. Amen.
God of heaven and earth, you revealed your only-begotten One to every nation by the guidance of a star. Bless this house and all who inhabit it. Fill us with the light of Christ, that our concern for others may reflect your love. We ask this through Christ our Savior. Amen.
Loving God, bless this household. May we be blessed with health, goodness of heart, gentleness, and abiding in your will. We ask this through Christ our Savior. Amen.
As participants take turns making the inscription, the leader says:
The three Wise Men, [C] Caspar, [M] Melchior, [B] and Balthasar followed the star to Bethlehem and the child Jesus  two thousand,  and twenty years ago. [+ +] May Christ bless our home [+ +], and remain with us throughout the new year. Amen.
All say the Lord’s Prayer.