Epiphany 2016

The Dream of the Magi, from Autun, by Gislebertus c.1125–1135

Epiphany is, to my way of thinking, the great feast of Christmas. With the revelation to the gentiles, the Incarnation of Christ becomes explicitly what it always was implicitly, the dawning of salvation on mankind. In previous posts, I have dwelt on the richness of the liturgy for the day, which weaves together the coming of the Magi, the baptism of Christ in the Jordan and the miracle of Cana — all of them manifestations of Christ’s divinity and his mission.

The Wedding Feast of Cana
Today, it is Cana that first captures my imagination. That lovely miracle, performed out of sheer compassion for a young couple’s embarrassment on their wedding-day — and, let’s be honest, the result of a little nagging from his mother — is a metaphor for the effect of grace on our lives. Jesus turns the water of life into wine; and, as with all his gifts, there is abundance and goodness, for he gives without stint. That doesn’t mean that every difficulty is magicked away. The young couple still needed to work at their marriage; the servants still had to beaver away at serving. Sweat and tears are part of our lot as human beings; but with the coming of Christ, they no longer separate us from God. He shares them with us.

The Gifts of the Magi
The three gifts the Magi lay before Jesus are gifts we must find within ourselves. The gold of generosity may require some deep mining on our part. It is comparatively easy to give material things, but to give of ourselves, that is so much harder. The frankincense of prayer doesn’t come easily, either. A gorgeous liturgy may make us feel we are praying, but unless our minds and hearts are engaged, it may be more about us than it is about God. Conversely, those bleak and apparently barren moments when nothing very much seems to happen and we feel nothing but weariness and disgust may be very powerful prayer indeed. Then there is the myrrh of service which can be hard and bitter, a death to self in every respect. But where Christ leads, we must follow. There is no other way but his.

The Baptism of Christ
Finally, there is the baptism of Christ in the Jordan. That mysterious anointing by the Holy Spirit, that charge to the bystanders — for a moment we glimpse the inner life of the Holy Trinity and are lost in wonder and adoration. This great feast of the Epiphany marks our entry into the People of God. With the death of Jesus on the Cross, his Resurrection and Ascension, we will become something more wonderful still, his Body, the Church. But for us who are gentiles, it all begins today.