Reprint: Daily Meditation , 1st Rights 1992; 2014 Lutheran Digest
From January 6th to Ash Wednesday, we celebrate the season of Epiphany. The word itself comes from the Greek word meaning “appearing” or “manifestation.” During Greco-Roman times, the term indicated a public visit of the king to his people. The Apostles referred to Christ, the deity; manifested as the Son of God and Saviour of Mankind.
The three-fold manifestations of our Lord celebrated by Christians were: (1) the marriage feast at Cana where Jesus showed His power by changing water to wine; (2) when Jesus’ divinity was shown by his baptism in the Jordan by John the Baptist; (3) the predominant them of our church, is Jesus’ appearance as a God of the Gentiles as well as the Jews, when the Three Wise Men visited the infant Jesus.
Historians feel the Magi were not present as the Manger Scene portrays them to be. They believe the Wise Men visited the infant Jesus at a later date for several reasons. It would have taken the Magi time to study the star of the East’s location and interpret its meaning. Once the star was studied, preparing for the trip, and the time involved in traveling from Persia to Bethlehem, including a stopover with King Herod, the wise men never would have been able to make Christ’s birth date.
And yes, Christmas was first celebrated on January 6th, not December 25th. No one is sure of the exact date Christmas and Epiphany were celebrated as separate feasts. But, we do know by the fourth century, most countries celebrated the Nativity on December 25th.
Through the centuries, Epiphany had many names: Old Christmas, Feast of the Three Kings, Befana Day, Festival of Light.
Also, since the Christmas season lasted twelve days, during the Middle Ages in England, the last day was called Twelfth Night. On this day there were wild revelries with bonfires, wassailing, games, songs, dances, food and drinks. Customs that included magi-plays, blessing of waters and homes, present giving, star and Epiphany carols came about.
A Lord of Misrule was chosen to be king for a day. Most of these customs ceased after the Reformation, although some were brought to America. In some towns, holiday greens were taken down and burned at a large bonfire.
Aside from the customs of the season, let us remember Epiphany, whereby, the only-begotten Son, Jesus Christ, made an official appearance to all His People, through the eyes of the Wise Men.