The feast of the Epiphany (January 6) commemorates the visitation of the Christ child by the Magi – not actually “kings” as the carols have it, but wise men (sometimes translated magicians). These far-traveling figures represent the spirituality and cultures of other nations, and the feast symbolizes the manifestation of Jesus among the Gentiles – that is, to those beyond members of the Jewish faith who were already awaiting the Messiah.
Epiphanytide goes on to celebrate further manifestations of Jesus. At the Feast of the Baptism of Our Lord (the first Sunday after Epiphany), we see Jesus’ mission inaugurated as Jesus’ cousin John baptizes him in the Jordan River, and a voice from Heaven is heard to proclaim, “This is my son, the beloved, with whom I am well pleased.” During Epiphany, we will commemorate the Baptism of Jesus through the renewing of our own Baptismal Vows, and the people will be sprinkled anew with holy water in the asperging of the congregation. A third manifestation comes in the miracle at Cana, which offers a promise of the abundance of the messianic wedding banquet and the promised Kingdom’s arrival.
House blessings are a tradition during Epiphany, and it is the custom in some places to bless chalk at the end of the Eucharist, so that people can take some home and write over their doors 20+C+M+B+23. The 20+23 stands for the year, and the C+M+B is either short for Caspar, Melchior and Balthazar, the names which tradition gives to the Magi, or Christus Mansionem Benedicat, which is Latin for “May Christ Bless this House.” You may want to do a web search on this tradition to find prayers to use at home for this form of house blessing.
Another custom associated with Epiphany is the Announcement of Easter, when the date of Easter, and other feasts determined by Easter’s date, traditionally were announced to the assembled congregation. Sometimes this announcement was sung to a tone similar to the Easter Exsultet. While this tradition comes from a time before everyone had access to a calendar, it remains a helpful reminder of the centrality of the Resurrection to our faith and the cycle of feasts and fasts that are determined by the date of Easter.
Suggestions for Prayer
- Return to the Baptismal Vows and Covenant in the Book of Common Prayer (pp. 302-305). Take each question as an invitation to reflect on your own experience of being one with Christ and ministering in his name.
- You might also find it meaningful to pray during Epiphany with the words of the Apostles Creed (BCP, p. 120). How does this ancient statement of our core beliefs speak to your faith and inspire you to pray?
Praying the Questions
- How has Jesus been made manifest in your own life?
- How have you had an epiphany: a moment when the pieces finally fell into place?
- How are you called to be a manifestation of Christ to others?
- What gifts have you received at the hands of others, in the name of Christ? What is the gift that this experience now empowers you to share?