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Epiphany means ‘revealing’. In the Christian tradition, Epiphany refers to a realization that Christ is the Son of God. Western churches generally celebrate the Visit of the Magi as the revelation of the Incarnation of the infant Christ, and commemorate the Feast of the Epiphany on January 6.

God of Light, Star of Love,
we fix the eyes of our hearts on you.
Lead us; guide us
to where shall see Christ,
and kneel.

The theme of the Epiphany season is that Jesus is the light of the world. The season begins with the light of a star and ends on transfiguration Sunday with Jesus shining with divine light on a mountain top.

The light of Christ’s love illumines our path and guides our way. We look at life in the light of God’s love, and that changes how we see the world. And the light of that love shines in us, so that our own lives become lights for others: streetlamps that offer guidance and safety, lighthouses that warn of danger, a new dawn that signals hope and beauty. Even when the scriptures aren’t literally talking about light, they describe how God’s love changes the world like light changes the darkness.

We also hear a lot this year about justice. God calls us to live in harmony with God’s spirit of compassion, which brings justice in the world like light in the darkness. Today’s world of political turmoil can feel pretty dark: things are worrisome, uncertain, unseen, and hard to discern. The world is full of shadowy figures who with selfish motives seem to avoid the light of truth, but haunt the poorly lit places. God’s mercy and justice shine light into such a world.

Steve Garners-Holmes, Unfolding Light

Several years ago, the Church of England decided that the three Wise Men might not have been men at all and there might not have been three of them. It is commonly assumed that there were three ‘givers’ for the three gifts for Jesus (gold, frankincense and myrrh) but original scripture did not say whether there were three visitors, or more, or less. (The gifts are an allusion to Isaiah 60.6: “They shall bring gold and frankincense, and shall proclaim the praise of God.” Matthew, foreshadowing the cross, adds myrrh.).

The idea that the visitors were kings didn’t appear until the fifth century. The word the writer of Matthew’s gospel uses suggests the visitors were foreigners, people outside the Jewish faith – probably Zoroastrian priests, or astrologers, or magicians, or ancient shamans from the courts of ancient Persia. They were sorcerers, high-ranking officials, but not kings.

Scripture is also silent on whether they were men or women. Christine Schenk has written a wonderful article, An Epiphany with Wise Women?  She quotes a renowned authority on the Gospel of Matthew, Dominican Fr. Benedict Thomas Viviano, who believes it entirely possible that women could have been among the Magi portrayed in the Matthean birth narrative. Viviano is professor emeritus at the University of Fribourg, Switzerland. He also wrote the commentary on Matthew in The New Jerome Biblical Commentary.Well worth a read.

You may have read the humorous take on the Wise Men asks, What would have happened if it had been three Wise Women?

  • they would have asked directions,
  • arrived on time,
  • helped deliver the baby,
  • cleaned the stable,
  • made a casserole,
  • and brought practical gifts,
  • and, there would be peace on earth.
“Epiphany,” ©2003 Janet McKenzie,, Collection of Catholic Theological Union, Chicago, IL

The visitors in the Gospel account should be referred to as ‘magi’ because the Bible is “silent” on identifying them by gender or status or profession

A prayer for Epiphany
We trust in God, Creator of all that is, whose light guides us and whose grace extends to all people of the world.
We follow Jesus, the Christ of God, Light of the world, who is the ruler of our hearts, before whom we bow in adoration and reverence, to whom we offer the gifts of our hands and hearts. Jesus loved people and healed them, and taught the way of true wisdom. Though many would make him king, he was not a ruler of a nation but the Prince of Peace. Earthly kings were threatened by him, and crucified him, but he was raised from the dead, sovereign even over life itself.
We live by the Holy Spirit, whose light is a star that guides us, whose grace gives us gifts to offer the world, whose companionship makes us one with peoples of all nations, tribes and traditions. In the power of that Spirit we devote ourselves to love and justice, for the sake of Christ, the sovereign of our hearts.
(Source: Steve Garnaas-Holmes)