Epiphany is one of those Christian festivals that often gets ignored, forgotten or just swept under the carpet. It comes just after Christmas, which we all know has a tendency to take up not just Christmas day itself, but an entire month. Most of us are still recovering from the Christmas/New Year period and suddenly epiphany is upon us, almost before we’ve realised it.
Epiphany began as a celebration of the incarnation of Jesus Christ, what is sometimes called the theophany of Jesus Christ. Theophany is a term used in several different religions but it essentially means the appearance of a divine being to man, or a representation of God through man. So in the Christian context we see this when Jesus is born as the divine Son of God, essentially God and man in the same person, 100% human and 100% God, fully God and fully human.
Alongside Jesus’ suffering on Good Friday, this understanding of epiphany highlights more clearly that Jesus isn’t a distant figure, who floats five inches above the ground and doesn’t relate to us, but that He is a real human being, with the same experiences and temptations we have.
If God is fully man, then by definition He has to experience all the temptations, feelings emotions, dilemmas, frustrations and basic human experiences that we go through at one point or another, and therefore knows from first hand experience what it really means to be human.
As we reflect on this, it allows us to connect with Jesus in a much deeper way, as when things are difficult, when there are problems, when we just want to give up, we have a God who can come to us and say with total honesty, ‘I know how you feel’.
This is a God who isn’t distant, but who is right there with us in those moments, in the times he feels most distant, and has been there before HImself. A God who wants interaction with us, who wants relationship, and who even in our darkest moments can relate to how we’re feeling and thinking and is right beside us.
Another historic understanding of epiphany was the remembrance of the visit of the wise men – three wise men from the east, not kings as they are often mistakenly called. The important thing to reflect on here is that these men were not Jews, they were what were known as ‘Gentiles’. Many thought the Messiah had come only for the Jews, but in including this story the writers of the Bible are sending out a message, that right from the beginning, the message of Jesus wasn’t just for Jews, but for all people everywhere.
What they are really saying though is that it’s not about meeting a set of criteria, obeying a set of rules, or being a special kind of person. It states quite clear that the invitation of God through Jesus is available to all.
Epiphany says that the message of Jesus is for all of us, that no matter who we are, whatever our background, no matter what we do or say, that we are unconditionally loved, welcomed and accepted into God’s kingdom.
This epiphany, let us celebrate the God who became incarnate, who became one with us and shared fully in our human experience. And let us remember that no matter who we are, what we’ve done or whatever our background, that the message and love of Jesus is for all people and for all time.