Friday, January 6, 2017
The Feast of the Epiphany
"Epiphany" means "manifestation." The full title of this feast that begins a new season of the Church Year is, "The Epiphany, or the Manifestation of Christ to the Gentiles." The Epiphany season, which extends from January 6th through Shrove Tuesday, highlights various occasions when Jesus was manifested to both Jews and Gentiles. To begin with, we will focus on the very first manifestation to the Gentiles, when wise men from the East came to visit the infant Child in Bethlehem.
Tradition says that there were three wise men, or "magi," who came from the East, following a star and seeking the newborn King of the Jews. In fact, St. Matthew says nothing about the number of visitors. The number three seems to derive from the gifts they brought, which were three in number: gold, frankincense, and myrrh. The wise men are also called "kings" because of a reference in the Psalms: The kings of Tarshish and of the isles shall give presents; the kings of Arabia and Saba shall bring gifts. (Ps. 72:10) In the course of time, they acquired names. In the West they became known as Caspar (or Gaspard or Jasper), Melchior, and Balthazar, and other Christian traditions have also found names for them. While much has been written about who they were and what prompted them to make the journey to see Jesus, all of that seems to us to miss the point. Whether there were three of them or a hundred and three, and whether we know their names or not, the story of their journey is not about them, for their principal role is to point to Jesus, to make others aware of him, and who he is. Even they do not fully understand this. On the one hand, they bring gifts of mystical meaning that manifest the character and saving work of Jesus. On the other hand, in their desire to fulfill their quest, they seem oblivious to the potentially dangerous consequences of their very public inquiries. By alerting the jealous King Herod to the birth of a rival king, they place the life of Jesus and of every other innocent young boy of Bethlehem in jeopardy. In the end, Jesus escapes the wrath of the tyrant, but the other boys do not. Nevertheless, the wise men have a role to play, and this they do. Thanks to them, from the very beginning of the story we know that, no matter how humble his apparent origins, this Jesus is no local hero, but the universal Savior, destined to be known and worshiped throughout the world, and to bring salvation to all people.
Propers for the Feast of the Epiphany - 6 January
O GOD, who by the leading of a star didst manifest thy only-begotten Son to the Gentiles; Mercifully grant that we, who know thee now by faith, may after this life have the fruition of thy glorious Godhead; through the same thy Son Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.
**This Collect is to be said daily throughout the Octave.**
The Epistle - Ephesians iii. 1.
FOR this cause I Paul, the prisoner of Jesus Christ for you Gentiles, if ye have heard of the dispensation of the grace of God, which is given me to you-ward: how that by revelation he made known unto me the mystery; (as I wrote afore in few words, whereby, when ye read, ye may understand my knowledge in the mystery of Christ) which in other ages was not made known unto the sons of men, as it is now revealed unto his holy apostles and prophets by the Spirit; that the Gentiles should be fellow-heirs, and of the same body, and partakers of his promise in Christ by the gospel: whereof I was made a minister, according to the gift of the grace of God given unto me by the effectual working of his power. Unto me, who am less than the least of all saints, is this grace given, that I should preach among the Gentiles the unsearchable riches of Christ; and to make all men see what is the fellowship of the mystery, which from the beginning of the world hath been hid in God, who created all things by Jesus Christ: to the intent that now unto the principalities and powers in heavenly places might be known by the church the manifold wisdom of God, according to the eternal purpose which he purposed in Christ Jesus our Lord: in whom we have boldness and access with confidence by the faith of him.
The Gospel - St. Matthew ii. 1.
WHEN Jesus was born in Bethlehem of Judea, in the days of Herod the king, behold, there came wise men from the east to Jerusalem, saying, Where is he that is born King of the Jews? for we have seen his star in the east, and are come to worship him. When Herod the king had heard these things, he was troubled, and all Jerusalem with him. And when he had gathered all the chief priests and scribes of the people together, he demanded of them where Christ should be born. And they said unto him, In Bethlehem of Judea: for thus it is written by the prophet, And thou Bethlehem, in the land of Judah, art not the least among the princes of Judah: for out of thee shall come a Governor, that shall rule my people Israel. Then Herod, when he had privily called the wise men, enquired of them diligently what time the star appeared. And he sent them to Bethlehem, and said, Go and search diligently for the young child; and when ye have found him, bring me word again, that I may come and worship him also. When they had heard the king, they departed; and, lo, the star, which they saw in the east, went before them, till it came and stood over where the young child was. When they saw the star, they rejoiced with exceeding great joy. And when they were come into the house, they saw the young child with Mary his mother, and fell down, and worshiped him: and when they had opened their treasures, they presented unto him gifts; gold, and frankincense, and myrrh. And being warned of God in a dream that they should not return to Herod, they departed into their own country another way.
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