By Steve Baird
Epiphany is celebrated on January 6th and falls on the 12th day of Christmas. The word epiphany means “manifestation” or “revelation” and is usually associated in Western Christianity with the visit of the wise men (Magi) to the Christ child. Through the Magi, who by tradition came from Persia (modern day Iraq), Christ was first revealed to the gentiles. However, other Christian traditions associate Epiphany with other events in Jesus’s life. In Eastern Orthodoxy, Epiphany (or Theophany) puts emphasis on the baptism of Jesus by John, with Christ revealing himself to the world as God’s own Son.
In the early church, Epiphany celebrated four different events in the following order of importance: (1) Christ’s baptism, (2) Christ’s first miracle, the changing of water into wine at the wedding in Cana, (3) the nativity of Christ, and the visitation of the wise men. Each of these events share the theme of revelation of God to humankind. At Christ’s Baptism, the Holy Spirit descends and the voice of God the Father is heard, declaring that Jesus is His Son; at the wedding in Cana, the miracle reveals Christ’s divinity; at the Nativity, the angels bear witness to Christ, and the shepherds, representing the people of Israel, bow down before Him; and at the visitation of the Magi, Christ’s divinity is revealed to the Gentiles—the other nations of the earth.
Eventually, the celebration of the Nativity was separated out, in the West, into Christmas; and shortly thereafter, Western Christians adopted the Eastern feast of the Epiphany, still celebrating the Baptism, the first miracle, and the visit from the Wise Men.
The Collect for Epiphany appears in our Book of Common Prayer:
“O God, Who by the leading of a star didst manifest Thine only-begotten Son to the Gentiles; Mercifully grant that we, who know Thee now by faith, may after this life have the fruition of thy glorious Godhead; through the same thy Son Jesus Christ, our Lord. Amen.”
—Steve Baird (Adapted from Wikipedia article and the Book of Common Prayer)