Why Epiphany Isn’t Just About the Magi

Today we celebrate the Epiphany of the Lord, and in the Gospel reading at Mass we hear of the magi coming to adore the Christ Child and offering Him gifts of gold, frankincense, and myrrh. But Epiphany is not simply one event in the life of Christ. As Fr. Matthew Spencer, OSJ shared on St. Joseph’s Workshop, Epiphany is about more than just the magi. It is connected to other events in Jesus’ life, and has deep meaning for us even today.

Fr. Matthew explained, “As a child, I always connected Epiphany with the magi. And it was always about them and only about them. And maybe you had that understanding too. It’s about the magi coming to see Jesus, which makes sense in the time of Christmas, because the Christ Child is still a child. And of course, we celebrate His birth. And so it makes sense to kind of commemorate that event at that time.”

“And then I got to know a little bit more about my faith,” he continued. “It was really when I entered the seminary and started praying the Liturgy of the Hours that I started to realize that Epiphany is about a lot more than just the magi coming to see Christ. And you get a sense of this when you pray morning prayer and evening prayer on January 6.”

Fr. Matthew read the antiphons that are used during morning prayer and evening prayer on the Epiphany of the Lord. The morning prayer antiphon reads, “Today the Church has been joined to her heavenly bridegroom, since Christ has purified her of her sins in the River Jordan; the magi hasten with their gifts to the royal wedding, and the wedding guests rejoice, for Christ has changed water in to wine. Alleluia.”

This antiphon takes three scenes from the life of Christ – the Baptism of the Lord, the Epiphany of the Lord, and the Wedding Feast at Cana – and weaves them together. But how are these events related?

Fr. Matthew explained, “What does epiphany mean? Epiphany is a Greek word meaning revelation or manifestation. In other words, the Epiphany is not necessarily about the magi coming to Jesus so much as God revealing Himself to mankind. God revealing Himself to the magi, God revealing himself to His people through the baptism of Jesus in the Jordan River, God revealing Himself through the miracle at the wedding feast in Cana.”

While the Epiphany of the Lord does commemorate the visit of the magi, and is a sign that Christ came for all mankind, it is also an opportunity to reflect on all the ways that God has revealed Himself to mankind.

“It’s powerful because you know what happens at the baptism of Jesus,” said Fr. Matthew. “He is baptized by John the Baptist. And then the clouds open up, a dove descends, and a voice from heaven calls out ‘Behold, this is my beloved Son, with whom I am well pleased.’ I mean, this is a powerful, powerful manifestation of God, who is Trinity – Father, Son, and Holy Spirit – all present there in the baptism of Jesus.”

“I know that happened 30 years later from the the Magi visiting Jesus. But it’s part of the celebration of Epiphany. The same is true with the changing of water into wine, the miracle of the creation of wine from water by Jesus at the wedding feast in Cana. It’s the first sign that Jesus gives, which is to say it’s Jesus manifesting His power and helping people to see that God now has come into the world in a way like never before. Like never before God is manifesting His grace and His presence to the world. And that’s part of what Epiphany is about.”

But these events and these manifestations of God’s presence were not only meant for those who were there first-hand. It was not meant only for the magi, those at the River Jordan, or those at the wedding at Cana. They were meant for us today. As Fr. Matthew said, “Those events are recorded in Scripture because they are universal, they are for you and for me to reflect on, to meditate on, to realize that God manifested Himself to the human race in a way that He had never done before.”

“To me what what’s really meaningful is He continues to manifest himself in this world,” he shared. “He continues to make Himself known in this world. I mean, He does it in His sacraments. He does it through Holy Scripture. He does it in the different devotions that we have. He does it in homilies, and in the celebration of the Mass, He does it in the Eucharist, most concretely. God present with us. Emmanuel, God with us.”

As you celebrate the Epiphany of the Lord today, take the opportunity to reflect on these questions: How is God making Himself present to me right now? How is God making Himself known to me at this moment?

Listen to the full reflection below and tune-in to St. Joseph’s Workshop with Father Matthew Spencer weekdays at 7:00 p.m. Eastern/4:00 p.m. Pacific on Relevant Radio® and the Relevant Radio App.