2 January 2022

Epiphany, by Fernando Gallego, 1480-1490

Yes, it is still the Christmas Season: the season officially ends next Sunday with the celebration of the Baptism of the Lord.  Today we celebrate the Great Feast of Epiphany . . . at least here in the United States. I’ll withhold comment on whether I think it a good thing or not to move it from it’s ancient, traditional date of January 6th, the date on which our ancestors celebrated this great feast, and on which many Christians throughout the world still do.     

Adoration of the Magi, by Claude Vignon, 1624

Over the centuries Epiphany has commemorated a number of different things. Today in the Western Church Epiphany focuses on the visit of the Magi, whom we often call  “The Three Kings,” Balthasar, Melchior, and Gaspar.  Scripture, however, neither crowns, nor numbers, nor names them, but simply describes them as “wise men from the East.”  The word Epiphany means “a manifestation” or “a revealing”.  In this context the name of the Feast refers to the fact that the gifts and adoration of the Magi make manifest that Jesus is the Messiah and the Son of God.  This ancient feast (which Christians were celebrating even before there was a formal observance of Christmas) has at times also been connected to the Nativity, the Baptism of Jesus and other manifestations of his Divinity.

     These are not the only epiphanies that our Lord has presented to us. It is interesting how many epiphanies of “God With Us” can be found in Scripture, how many different ways he reveals himself: the examples above barely scratch the surface. And yet it’s still so hard for us to accept that the infinite, omnipotent Lord of the Universe has seen fit to reveal anything to us at all, much less lowered himself to take on human flesh, to come among us “in the form of a slave” as Saint Paul put it (Philippians 2:7). This strange reluctance on our part to fully believe the manifest action of God is a theme I touched on in yesterday’s post as well. Even Mary and Joseph themselves, after visits from Angels, and after what they knew full well was a Virgin Birth, “marveled at what was said about him” (Luke 2:33) when they heard the old man Simeon prophesy over Jesus as he was presented in the Temple. And that’s not the end of it: a full dozen years after thr birth of their Divine Son, they still seem to have a hard time taking it all in:

After three days they found him in the temple, sitting among the teachers, listening to them and asking them questions; and all who heard him were amazed at his understanding and his answers. And when they saw him they were astonished; and his mother said to him, “Son, why have you treated us so? Behold, your father and I have been looking for you anxiously.” And he said to them, “How is it that you sought me? Did you not know that I must be in my Father’s house?” And they did not understand the saying which he spoke to them.  (Luke 2:46-50)

The Finding of the Saviour in the Temple, by William Holman Hunt, 1860

    It is so very difficult for all of us to grasp the reality of the Incarnation that even the human parents of The Lord seem to struggle with it – and who could hope to have faith equal to theirs?  

     But even here, as always, the Blessed Mother is the model disciple: “His mother”, the Evangelist tells us, “kept all these things in her heart” (Luke 2:51).  She doesn’t let her initial human reactions have the last word, but patiently waits for the meaning of all these events to become manifest.  One might even say that she demonstrates the classic definition of theology: faith seeking understanding.

Music for Christmas

Adoration of the Shepherds, by Agnolo Bronzino, 1539-1540

The obvious choice for a Christmas clip here would be “We Three Kings,” but it’s very hard to find an appropriate version of the song on a platform other than YouTube.  When I started this blog a year ago I founded it on an explicit rejection of Google and all its works and promises, and YouTube is a satrapy in Google’s Evil Empire. I’ve posted dozens of music videos over the past twelve months, and I’ve either found what I wanted on Vimeo or created my own video . . . or gave up and looked for something else.  This is one of those occasions when I can’t find a good version on Vimeo, and don’t have the time to make my own video.

     Fortunately, there is a good second choice at hand.  With words by Charles Wesley and George Whitefield, set to the joyful music of Felix Mendelssohn, I give you “Hark the Herald Angels Sing.”  The clip below features a rousing rendition by the choir of St. Andrews Anglican Cathedral in Sydney, Australia.

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