New Testament Bible Class

Epiphany

December 25

 ·        Christmas Day in the “western” church of which we are part.

January 6

  • Epiphany
    • The Western (Roman) Catholic Church adopted this Feast in the 3rd Century, calling it Epiphany.
    • Twelfth Day of Christmas, also known as Twelfth Day and Three Kings Day
  • Theophany (Revelation of the Trinity at Christ’s baptism in the Jordan)
    • Eastern Orthodox Church & Eastern (Byzantine) Catholic Church
    • Third greatest Feast of the Eastern Church, following Pascha (Easter) and Pentecost.
    • One of the oldest Feasts in Eastern Christianity, traced back to the beginning of the 2nd Century.

January 7

·        Christmas Day in the Eastern Orthodox Churches and Oriental Orthodox Churches using the Julian Calendar

Epiphany, meaning ‘appearance’ or ‘manifestation’, is a Christian feast intended to celebrate the “shining forth” or revelation of God in human form, to the Gentiles, in the person of Jesus. Some Christians commemorate the visitation of the Magi to the child Jesus on this day, while others use the day to commemorate the baptism of Jesus as an adult. It is also called Theophany, especially by those commemorating Christ’s baptism. From http://www.widipedia.com. (Be careful with information on Wikipedia.  The information above appears reliable.) 

The word “Epiphany” comes from the Greek, epiphainw, epiphainomai or epiphanai. The word has to do with showing oneself or making an appearance. A shorter form of the original word is used in this Sunday’s Gospel Lesson by King Herod; he inquired of the Magi the time of the star’s appearance. Unlike the contemporary manger scenes, ancient tradition suggests that the Magi did not come to the stable on Christmas, but twelve days later. As far as we know, the twelfth day is no more likely than any other, but Matthew’s account indicates that it was not the first day, because Mary and Joseph were in a house when the Magi arrived.

Epiphany is the day that the church celebrates their arrival. The whole season of Epiphany, however, celebrates neither the appearance of the Magi, nor the appearance of the star, but the appearance of the Light of the world Himself! Light, enlightening and manifest are words which are used again and again throughout the Season.

A word which I have used several times here has gained acceptance over the years as an English transliteration of the Greek word that Matthew used to describe the visitors from the East: magoi. It is interesting that the Latin, Greek, and English forms are probably all transliterations of an ancient Persian word, magu. Matthew tells us very little about these mysterious visitors. In his day, the phrase from the East, could refer to Arabia, Mesopotamia or regions beyond. The story implies that they have traveled a long way. Since Matthew chose not to identify them more carefully, many scholars have enjoyed theorizing about them. They may have been members of a shaman caste of the ancient Medes, Zoroastrian priests, or some of the other various groups, known for interpretations of dreams and stars.

Matthew’s silence about the possible fulfillment of Old Testament prophecy concerning the Magi is interesting.

·        Numbers 24:17 says that a star will arise from Jacob, and

·        Isaiah 60:3 says, “Nations shall come to your light, and kings to the brightness of your rising.”

·        Several Psalms (68:29, 72:10) speak about kings bearing gifts.

These Psalms and the passage from Isaiah probably account for identifying them as kings. The idea that there were three of them is likely based on the number of the gifts; we don’t know how many Magi actually made the journey. To call them magicians would imply something inaccurate, but they were certainly astronomers, students of the stars.

At the very beginning of his work, Matthew is hinting at something which is the ultimate point of his book: Jesus is the Messiah of the Jews and, no less, of the Gentiles! Without making a big thing of it, he reveals that these pagans from the East are guided by God to the birth of the Messiah, whereas Herod the Great and his cronies, the chief priests and scribes, are ignorant of Jesus at the start, and enemies very quickly thereafter.

Christ was born into a hostile world; Matthew does not let us romanticize or trivialize that fact. His readers are immediately confronted with the story of the Magi visiting Jerusalem. Thinking that this was the logical place for the “King of the Jews” to be born, they go straight to the palace of Herod the Great. Matthew’s original readers would know what we hesitate to even think about. Herod the Great would have been better named Herod the Horrible! This notorious ruler murdered three of his own sons because, in his pitiful insecurity, he thought they were after his throne. Later, he had 300 of his officers permanently dispatched, to say nothing of his own wife and mother. The poor Magi were unaware of the danger to themselves and to the One they came to worship, when they went to see Herod. These interpreters of stars and dreams received a dream of their own and were warned not to return to Herod. Matthew says Herod was furious!

From Edit-O-Earl by Rev. Earl Feddersen found at http://www.lcms.org/pages/internal.asp?NavID=3099

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