Commentary

Three Epiphanies

Originally Appeared in : 9901-1/3/19
The Solemnity of the Epiphany (this year celebrated on its traditional date, January 6) celebrates the manifestation of God’s presence in the person of Jesus Christ, his Word made flesh. While Christians have come to associate the word “epiphany” primarily with the visit of the three Magi to the infant Jesus, this feast historically has commemorated several epiphanies, several manifestations or revelations of the Messiah to the different peoples whom he came to save. According to the ancient tradition of the Church, the Solemnity of the Epiphany celebrates three mysteries, three epiphanies, as the Magnificat antiphon for Evening Prayer for Epiphany bears witness:
 
1) “today the star leads the Magi to the infant Christ”;
2) “today water is changed into wine for the wedding feast”;
3) “today Christ wills to be baptized by John in the river Jordan to bring us salvation.”
 
Likewise, the Benedictus antiphon at Morning Prayer on Epiphany attests the same “triad of mysteries” associated with this feast: “Today the Bridegroom claims his Bride, the Church, since
 
1) the Magi hasten with their gifts to the royal wedding;
2) Christ has washed her sins with Jordan’s waters; and
3) the wedding guests rejoice for Christ has changed water into wine, alleluia.”
 
Thus, this feast commemorates three epiphanies of Jesus Christ to three different groups of people: 1) to the goyim (the pagan nations represented by the Magi), 2) to his own Galileans (at Cana) and 3) to the Judeans (at his baptism).
 
In Matthew 2:1-12, the three Magi (wise men, astrologers, kings— their exact status is disputed) followed the star to Bethlehem, where it came to rest over the place where the child was. Going into the house, “they saw the child with Mary his mother, and they fell down and worshiped him.” This is the revelation of the Son of God to the pagan nations, the goyim or Gentiles, represented by the Magi. Their epiphany takes place through the “ministry” of a star. In the words of Christopher Wordsworth’s hymn “Songs of Thankfulness and Praise”:
 
 
Songs of thankfulness and praise,
Jesus, Lord, to Thee we raise,
Manifested by the star
To the sages from afar,
Branch of royal David’s stem,
In Thy birth at Bethlehem.
Anthems be to Thee addressed
God in man made manifest.
 
At his Baptism, recounted in all four Gospels, Jesus is manifested as the long-awaited Messiah (Christ) to the people of Judah / Judea, the Judeans (“Jews”).  All four gospels tell of his baptism by John in the Jordan. John bears witness to Jesus, as do the Father’s voice and the presence of the Spirit, symbolized by the dove. The epiphany of Christ’s baptism is now celebrated with a separate feast on the Sunday after Epiphany.
 
 
Manifest at Jordan’s stream,
Prophet, Priest, and King supreme...
 
The Prophet from Galilee is manifested to his own people in John 2:1-11, the account of the wedding feast at Cana. This passage presents the changing of water into wine; “this, the first of his signs, Jesus did at Cana in Galilee, and manifested his glory; and his disciples believed in him.” In this account, it is Mary who alerts Jesus that “they have no wine.” At Cana, Mary subordinates herself to Jesus and tells those present to do “whatever he tells you.” With these words, Mary is revealed as the archetypal Christian herald, who manifests Christ to those in need of him, and the Galileans present, who enjoyed the good wine, saved until last, are the objects and beneficiaries of his loving care.
 
 
And at Cana, Wedding-guest,
In Thy Godhead manifest;
Manifest in power divine,
Changing water into wine.
 
Taken together, these events reveal Jesus Christ as the Messiah, the Son of God, the Prophet who was to come. The three epiphanies are tailored to the needs and expectations of the different peoples for whom he came: Galileans, Judeans, even pagans. They reveal the wondrous love that God has for all peoples and his patient attention to their hopes and understanding. Christ’s coming for others, for us, for all—the universal saving meaning of Christmas—is what is commemorated on this feast.
 
Let us be open to the Epiphanies of the Lord in whatever way he chooses to manifest himself to us in south Georgia, in the Year of Our Lord 2019, especially over the next three Sundays: January 6 (the Epiphany of the Lord), January 13 (the Baptism of the Lord = First Sunday in Ordinary Time), and January 20 (Second Sunday in Ordinary Time, Year C, featuring Saint John’s Gospel of the Wedding Feast at Cana).
 
May I be the first to wish you all “Happy Epiphanies”.
 
Father Douglas K. Clark is pastor of Saint Matthew Church, Statesboro.
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