Like shining from shook foil
The feasts of Epiphany: signs that manifest the glory of God
The waning of the liturgical sequence of Advent / Christmas / Epiphany, and at the waxing of the Lent / Holy Week / Easter sequence are two great continents of the spiritual globe that cycle through the centuries, year after year, to fashion a people who know and reflect the truth of God, and therefore, the truth of all Creation.
Each of these, harnessed in tandem, perennially rehearses (re-harrows) the natural longing of the soul for its true home in God, as revealed in wisdom, and over time, to a people who are gradually awakening to God’s dawn—God’s shining forth, God’s epiphany.
Epiphany (from the Latin meaning: manifestation, or shining forth,) the season we are currently in, may be the most under-attended-to season of the Christian calendar year, and yet its power to stagger us with mystery and animate our faith is hard to overstate.
Whereas Advent reveals the deepest truth of our humanity—that we were created to receive the seed of God and bear it forth for the sake of the world—and whereas Christmas reveals the humble vulnerability of God condescended in matter and flesh to assume and redeem all that is broken and distant, Epiphany reveals Christ’s divinity shining forth from His humanity, freeing us from parochial theologies and revealing a scope of salvation too bright for human eyes. Epiphany lifts our eyes from immediate personal, familial, and tribal spheres to demand that we include in our vision “all the ends of the earth.”
There are three major feasts of Epiphany that serve as “signs” that “manifest the glory of God” (Jn. 2:11):
In the Christian West, the first feast of Epiphany falls on January 6 and celebrates the coming of the Magi to pay homage to the child Jesus. That pagan ‘outsiders’ would have been among the first to apprehend and respond to God’s great self-revelation must have been an arresting shock to a people who considered themselves secure and unique ‘insiders.’
Yet, there is no inconstancy here with ancient Scriptures, which clearly teach that we are blessed to be a blessing; we are not to set ourselves above others, to hoard the gifts of God, or to arrogate power, but rather, as Advent teaches, to participate with God in the project of new life for the sake of the world.
The second major feast of Epiphany falls on the second Sunday and recalls the baptism of Christ. Here is a revelation as staggering as the Incarnation.
As Jesus came out of the waters of His own human baptism, cleansing all that was stained with sin and brokenness, it is said that the heavens split as the Spirit descended, and the voice of the Father declared Jesus’ divine Sonship.
For the first time in history, God’s oneness is revealed not as a numerical oneness, but as a communal oneness: a com-unity. Time stops as we see this tableau of Father, Son and Spirit. Our own spirits swoon as the imagination begins to apprehend the far-reaching consequences of this revelation: God is com-unity, and we’ve been made in the image of God.
The third major feast of Epiphany celebrates the wedding feast of Cana, which marks Jesus’ first public miracle. As an example of Christ’s divinity shining through His humanity, this feast is self-explanatory: Jesus is Lord of the earth and Master of matter. The circumstance of the miracle also reveals a celebratory inclination and largesse in God’s nature.
But the ancient Church saw a deeper meaning here in that the wedding at Cana foreshadows the divine wedding of Christ with humanity: Christ’s nuptials with the Church. For as the Catholic liturgy summarizes the various feasts, and prophetically proclaims, “This day the Church is joined to her heavenly Spouse, for Christ has cleansed her crimes in the Jordan. With gifts the Magi hasten to the royal nuptials, and the guests are gladdened with wine made from water.”
It has been said that Epiphany extends the colours of Christmas. Indeed it does… “like shining from shook foil” (God’s Grandeur, Gerard Manly Hopkins).
Winnipeg based singer/songwriter Steve Bell is the author of the multi-media e-book series Pilgrim Year: Scripture, story, song, poetry, and art to explore the Christian calendar. Available online at: www.stevebell.com/pilgrim-year.
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