The religious season continues through Jan. 6 for Christians who celebrate the Feast of the Epiphany. This week’s clergy discuss the meaning of the religious observance also known as the Feast of the Three Kings or, less formally, Little Christmas.
The Rev. Msgr. Francis J. Maniscalco
Pastor, St. Thomas the Apostle R.C. Church, West Hempstead
The Epiphany celebrates joy and wonder. Most people know the carol, "The 12 Days of Christmas." Those 12 days run from Christmas to the eve of the Epiphany. In the Catholic tradition the joy we feel in many of our great celebrations cannot be confined to a single day. Instead we celebrate for a whole week until the day we call the "octave." Christmas is a good example. Catholics celebrate Jesus' birth from Dec. 25 to Jan. 1, as if each day were still Christmas Day.
So joyful is the celebration of Jesus' birth that a tradition grew up of celebrating the "12 days" of Christmas — from Christmas Day until the eve of the Epiphany. Then on the Epiphany, our Christmas joy is reignited as we celebrate the visit of the wise men (the Magi) from the east following a star. How wonderful it is that the Christ child is adored not only by the shepherds in the neighborhood of his birth but by men from afar who recognize his birth from the appearance of a star! How filled with surprise and wonder Mary and Joseph must have been to receive these guests bearing gifts fit for a newborn king. How entranced down the ages have been both young and old when, on the Epiphany, the statues of these three Magi, now traditionally dressed like kings, are added to the manger scene (not to mention their camel!).
The word “epiphany” means “manifestation.” On this feast we are filled with wonder and joy that God’s love is manifested to all people everywhere.
The Rev. James Barnum
Pastor, Bellmore Presbyterian Church
At a recent Christmas party at a dear friend’s home, I was among 15 professional friends — mostly doctors and nurses, and a few in law and technology. I asked them a question before offering grace: “What does Epiphany mean?”
Here are some of their answers: new birth; awakening; I do not know; a fresh new appreciation of life; shedding the old shackles of the past; my divorce from my first husband; my time as a caterpillar has expired; the surrender to the "Ah-ha" moment.
Epiphany, or “appearance/ manifestation” via Three Kings' Day, is a Christian feast day that celebrates the revelation of God incarnate as Jesus Christ, especially to the gentile nations. You can read its story in the Gospel of Matthew (2:1-12) in the Bible, although there is no mention of three Magi or kings, only that three gifts were given: gold, frankincense and myrrh to honor the Christ child.
The celebration is about going to a house of worship, as we will do here at the Bellmore Presbyterian Church, as we conclude the season of Christmas with Holy Communion, celebrating the very presence of Jesus among us.
The Rev. Leandra T. Lambert
Curate, St. Luke’s Episcopal Church, East Hampton
The Feast of the Epiphany begins another season within the church’s calendar year during which liturgical readings center on God manifested in the person of Jesus Christ. The word epiphany means to “manifest” or “reveal” or “show.”
On the Feast of the Epiphany, the Wise Men, or Magi, arrive bearing gifts and present the Christ child with gold (recognizing him as king), frankincense (recognizing him as a priest) and myrrh (an anointing oil for burial). (Matthew 2:1-12)
The gospels are filled with narratives in which Christ is revealed as our Lord and Savior. Other examples include Jesus’ first miracle of turning water into wine at a wedding (John 2:1-11) and Jesus’ own declaration in the synagogue that he is anointed and fulfilling prophecy. (Luke 4:14-21) At the Jordan River, John the Baptist publicly affirmed that Jesus would baptize with the Holy Spirit. God also declares that Jesus is the Beloved Son of God. (Luke 3:15-17, 21-22)
Above all, we have the teachings of Jesus to love our enemies, to do good and to not judge. (Luke 6:27-38) These narratives, whether read individually or taken together, reveal and celebrate the great care with which God came to us, taught and loved.