What is Epiphany?: a brief summary

Edward Burne-Jones, The Adoration of the Magi; silk, wool and cotton fabric; 1904.

Today, January 6, we celebrate Epiphany, which is also known as Three Kings Day. Epiphany begins a season of the church year that runs up to Ash Wednesday, the beginning of Lent. (Some traditions celebrate Epiphany-tide through Candlemas, the feast of the the Presentation of Jesus at the Temple, on February 2, marking 40 days from Christmas day.)

Epiphany comes from the Greek word epiphaneia (ἐπιφάνεια), which literally means ‘appearing’ or ‘manifestation.’ The word appears in Paul’s second letter to Timothy in a passage which sheds light on the heart of Epiphany:

This grace was given us in Christ Jesus before the beginning of time, but it has now been revealed through the appearing (epiphaneia) of our Savior, Christ Jesus, who has destroyed death and has brought life and immortality to light through the gospel. (2 Timothy 1:9-10)

Epiphany celebrates the appearing of Jesus as the Savior of the world, and particularly his revelation to the Gentiles, or nations. This is why Epiphany is often associated with the arrival of the Magi to acclaim Jesus as king and offer their gifts to him in Matthew 2:1-12. Two other episodes of Jesus’ life often associated with Epiphany are Jesus’ baptism (Matthew 3:13-17) and the first miracle of turning water into wine at Cana (John 2:1-12), both of which are manifestations of Jesus’ identity and power, marking the beginning of His public ministry.

Epiphany offers an important opportunity to thank God for the light we have received through Jesus Christ and the significance of His saving work, not just for one people group, but people from around the globe. We can also reflect on how our ordinary lives are impacted by the light found in Jesus Christ, both His teaching and His life.

These words from Isaiah 60:1-3, are often read on Epiphany, and serve as a wonderful basis for worship today:

Arise, shine, for your light has come,
    and the glory of the Lord rises upon you.
See, darkness covers the earth
    and thick darkness is over the peoples,
but the Lord rises upon you
    and his glory appears over you.
Nations will come to your light,
    and kings to the brightness of your dawn.

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