This coming Sunday western Christianity celebrates the Epiphany of the Lord. The word comes from the Greek epiphaneia meaning “manifestation” or, “striking appearance.” The feast had its origins in Easter Christian Churches and was a general celebration of the manifestation of the Incarnation of Jesus. Originally its scope was more broad. It was a celebration of a number of events in scripture that revealed Jesus to the world. Those events included: the commemoration of his birth; the visit of the Magi to Bethlehem; all of Jesus’ childhood events, up to and including his baptism in the Jordan by John the Baptist; and even the miracle at the Wedding of Cana in Galilee.
In western Christian Churches the focus has rested primarily upon the Visit of the Magi. This was in keeping with an emphasis on the Gospel according to Luke’s focus on the revelation to the Gentiles (meaning all non-Jewish people). The Magi, who represented the non-Jewish peoples of the world, paid homage to the infant Jesus in stark contrast to Herod the Great, King of Judea, who sought to kill him.
The traditional date for celebrating The Epiphany of the Lord is January 6th – at least on the Gregorian calendar. There are Eastern churches using the Julian calendar who celebrate the feast on January 19th owing to the 13-day difference between the two calendars. Here in the United States, the feast is celebrated on the Sunday that falls between January 2 and January 8.
In Spain and some Latin American countries, Epiphany day is called Three Kings Day remembering the arrival of the three Kings traditionally named: Melchior, Gaspar (or Kaspar), and Balthazar. Some hold that the kings represented Europe, Arabia, and Africa, arrived on horse, camel and elephant, brought gold, frankincense and myrrh to the baby Jesus.
Image credit: The Adoration of the Magi by Edward Burne-Jones (1904) | Public Domain