The Feast of the Epiphany
by Victor Hoagland, C.P.
The Feast of the Epiphany (epiphany means "manifestation", "revelation") is the oldest of the Christmas feasts and is still celebrated on January 6th as the major feast of the season by the eastern Christian churches. The feast probably began in those churches in the Middle East strongly influenced by the Gospel of John, who proclaimed of Jesus Christ:
And the Word became flesh
As "the true light, which enlightens everyone " come into the world, Jesus came not only that we might see his glory but also that we might share in it. "From his fullness we have all received, grace for grace." (John 1,16) His baptism in the Jordan and his presence at the marriage feast of Cana in Galilee ( two themes from John's gospel still closely connected with the Feast of the Epiphany) portray Jesus revealed as God's Son and uniting humanity to himself. right: engraving from German bible, c. 1920
From earliest times the Feast of the Epiphany, like Easter, was a day for baptising those who believed in his name. To them, "he gave power to become children of God." (John 1, 12) The story of the Magi, from Matthew's gospel, celebrates the call of God to all peoples to share in the grace of Jesus Christ. "The Gentiles are fellow heirs, members of the same body, and partakers of the promise in Jesus Christ through the gospel." (Ephesians 3, 5-6)
Historians see the Feast of the Epiphany originating from early Jewish-Christian celebrations of the Jewish Feast of Tabernacles, which celebrated God's glory in covenant, light and water. In John's gospel this same Jewish feast often becomes the setting for the question: Who is Jesus Christ? (cf John 7-10) The gospel affirms, as does this feast, he is God's divine Son.
In some regions the Feast of the Epiphany is also called the Feast of the Holy Kings or Three King's Day. Gifts are given in memory of the Magi's gifts of gold, frankinsence and myrrh. Homes are blessed with holy water, in remembrance of that blessed home where the Magi found the Child and his mother. The Feast of the Baptism of Jesus usually follows the celebration of this feast in the western church.
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