|The Magi arranged before the Christ Child in our Nativity|
Epiphany, or "Three Kings' Day" in Western Christianity," marks the end of the Twelve Days of Christmas. The word epiphaneia means "manifestation" in Greek, and it signfies the "striking appearance" or theophany God made flesh in the person of Jesus. It began to be celebrated on January 6 for several different reasons in early Christianity. First, before December 25 was settled on as the day of Jesus' birth, some early Christians actually commemorated it in early January. In Eastern Christianity, it was the day of Jesus' baptism or new birth, when his divine status was attested by the sign of the dove and the voice of God. But in the Western tradition, it became the day that commemorated the visit of the Magi, to whom Jesus' divinity was made manifest by the star of Bethlehem.
Because the Magi were traditionally Persian wise men, very early Matthew's account of their seeking, finding, and worshipping the Christ Child came to represent how the Lord was made manifest to all nations.
I have also added after the music section a couple of movie ideas, which work well for younger and older children respectively.
- The Story of the Wise Men (Epiphany, Matthew 2:1–12)
- The Escape into Egypt (2:13–15)
- The Massacre of the Innocents (Matthew 2:16–18)
The traditional Anglican collect for Epiphany reads as follows:
O God, who by the leading of a star didst manifest thy only-begotten Son to the peoples of the earth: Lead us, who know thee now by faith, to thy presence, where we may behold thy glory face to face; through the same Jesus Christ our Lord, who liveth and reigneth with thee and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever. Amen.
|Sant'Apollinare Nuovo, Ravenna (Wikimedia Commons)|
Matthew uses the term magoi for the special visitors who come to the child Jesus bearing gifts of gold, frankincense, and myrrh. Nowhere, however, does he number them, but because he speaks of wise men in the plural, there must have been two or more. Early artistic representations depict two, three, four, or even as many as twelve wise men visiting the Mother and Child. The number three seems to have become established because of the number of gifts that they brought.
The grief of the mothers of Bethlehem compels us to face a sad reality: what is such a joyous season for so many is often a cheerless or even depressing time for others. As Elder Jeffery R. Holland has written, “For many people in many places this may not be an entirely happy Christmas, one not filled with complete joy because of the circumstances facing a spouse or a friend, a child or a grandchild. Or perhaps that was the case another Christmas in another year, but one which brings a painful annual memory to us yet.” To the list of those who have lost a loved one or suffered some personal pain, I would add those who are alone, ill, or chronically depressed at Christmastime. Circumstances beyond our control often weigh heavily upon us, set in sharp contrast by the seeming joy of so many around us. And sometimes the sadness we feel is simply the regret and letdown that comes when a happy time comes to a necessary end and we are confronted with the monotony or dreary routine of day-to-day living.
Lullay, Thou little tiny Child,By, by, lully, lullay.Lullay, Thou little tiny Child,By, by, lully, lullay.O sisters too, how may we do,For to preserve this day?This poor youngling for whom we sing,“By, by, lully, lullay.”Herod the king, in his raging,Charged he hath this day.His men of might, in his own sight,All young children to slay.That woe is me, poor child for Thee!And ever mourn and say,For thy parting neither say nor sing,“By, by, lully, lullay.”
The gifts of gold, frankincense, and myrrh offered by the Wise Men to Jesus have served through the centuries as a precedent for the giving of gifts at Christmas. Today we are moved to give gifts—both presents of worldly things and also gifts of the heart—to those whom we love at this special season. While we often lose sight of the true purpose of giving, Jesus’ teaching that “inasmuch as ye have done it unto one of the least of these my brethren, ye have done it unto me” (Matthew 25:40), implicitly suggests that when we love, serve, and give to those whom Christ loves, we are, in fact, giving to him.
|Rachel helping Samuel with his lines as one of the three kings|
|My creche at work|
What shall we give to the Babe in the manger?What shall we offer the Child in the stall?Incense and spices and gold we’ve a-plenty.Are these the gifts for the King of us all?
What shall we give to the Boy in the temple?What shall we offer the Man by the sea?Palms at his feet and hosannas uprising,Are these for him who will carry the tree?
What shall we give to the Lamb who was offered,Rising the third day and shedding His Love?Tears for his mercy we’ll weep at the manger,Bathing the Infant come down from above.
Movies and Stories great for Epiphany
- "The Little Drummer Boy," a Christmas classic, is great for families with small children both because of the supporting role of the three kings but even more so because the drummer boy learns about true giving and the power of love.
- "The Other Wise Man," a wonderful story by Henry Van Dyke, is a good story to read together or to watch as a DVD production (for example, as "The Fourth Wise Man").