The Profound Meaning of Epiphany

By Stephen Norcross

When I was a kid, I would get up before everyone else on Christmas morning and go into the living room extremely excited. I could hardly wait to tear into the brightly wrapped presents under the tree. My parents had a rule. I could not touch the wrapped gifts until the whole family was awake and present. I could hardly wait!

To tide me over for the big stuff, I was allowed to look into the big red Christmas stocking that was hung from the mantel. It had the usual orange in the toe, and pencils and pens and erasers and other stuff for school. One year there was something different in that stocking. It was a magnet, shaped like a horseshoe, painted bright red on the big part and the two ends painted gray.

I don’t remember what was in the big packages, but I sure remember that magnet. I went around the house all day, seeing what it stuck to, and what it didn’t stick to. I was warned not to put it near my wristwatch or the magnet would ruin the watch. Most fun of all was to hold it one way and it would clench another magnet, but hold it the other way and it would repel the other magnet. Such fun for a 7-year old kid!

That toy magnet came to mind as I was pondering the Epiphany. The gospel for that feast, the story of the magi, wise men from the East, who being attracted to visit the child Jesus by the leading of a star, were overwhelmed with joy, and left gifts. What’s amazing about this story is that these men from a distant land, modern-day Iran or Iraq ­– astrologers, pagans, men of strange faith – followed the attraction of their hearts.

The season of Epiphany has as its theme the manifestation of Jesus Christ to the gentiles. That is, while Christmas has as its meaning the coming of Christ to his own people, his own nation, his own religion, Epiphany teaches us that the saving work of Jesus is not just a Jewish thing, but is for the whole world and everyone in it. Once in a while we see a bumper sticker that is really Epiphany in its meaning, “God bless the whole world. No exceptions.”

What we know about the magi is that they were probably astrologers; that is, they believed that the arrangement of the planets and the stars could be studied to describe the future of those who sought their wisdom. Most important is that they were men of standing in their families and in their communities. They were guided by an especially bright and unusual object in the sky to the west. Once arriving, they were filled with joy, and left precious gifts, gold, frankincense, and myrrh. Returning home, we can assume that their spiritual lives were changed. They had seen Jesus, and now he was Lord.

God bless the whole world. No exceptions. A startling and profound truth about who we are as men and women of faith, and about our future as people of God. As we put behind us the struggles and difficulties of 2008, we look forward to the promise of an entirely different and historically remarkable chief executive. Of course, we look to the economy of this new year to be an improvement over that of 2008.

The profound meaning of the Epiphany is one that enchanted the magi, and continues to enchant us as we worship the God made flesh, the Son of God and son of man, Jesus Christ, who was born for us in the City of David, the very one who is Christ the Lord. The people who walked in darkness have seen a great light. That light is still with us, dispelling the darkness of our lives, and turning us toward hope: Jesus Christ, the light of the world.

A little boy began to learn about the laws of attraction and magnetism thanks to a toy in his Christmas stocking long ago. May men and women of faith be attracted to the Lord of all creation and to his Son, Jesus Christ. God bless the whole world. No exceptions.

The Rev. Steven Norcross is a priest of the Diocese of Oregon. He lives in Portland.


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