The priest in my elementary school religion class was not impressed when I announced confidently to him and the class that Epiphany was "when you take down your Christmas tree." In those days, the Feast of Epiphany marked the end of the Christmas season: the decorations came down, school resumed, and life would soon return to its pre-Christmas routine. The visit of the magi, the three wise men who followed the star to find the infant Jesus and pay homage to him, signaled for many the completion of the story of the Incarnation, of God taking on human nature for the sake of our salvation.
The celebration of the feast of the Epiphany, however, really signals for us a beginning, a beginning that has no end; it celebrates "the manifestation of the Messiah of Israel, the Son of God, and the Saviour of the world." (Catechism of the Catholic Church, 528). What does this really mean? It means that God is faithful: all that was promised to Israel, as we read in the Old Testament, has found fulfilment in the birth of Jesus Christ. He is the answer to Israel's anticipation of the Messiah.
It also means that God is loving and merciful: God's Son is made manifest not only for Israel, but for all nations and religions, as is represented by the magi. In a sermon for Epiphany, Pope St. Leo the Great said, "Let us celebrate with spiritual joy the day of our first harvesting, of the first calling of the Gentiles. Let us give thanks to the merciful God who has made us worthy....to share in the position of the saints in light; who has rescued us from the power of darkness, and brought us into the kingdom of his beloved Son." (Liturgy of the Hours, Solemnity of Epiphany)
We are not alone, and need look no further than to the tiny infant born of Mary, in a humble stable. Like the wise men, who traveled to Jerusalem in search of the child (Mt. 2:2), our search takes us to God's gracious gift in Jesus, offered to all, and made manifest to all who seek Him. The feast of the Epiphany, together with the baptism of the Lord, and the wedding feast at Cana, reveal to us the mystery of the true identity of Jesus Christ, Emmanuel, God-with-us. God-with-us.
As we reflect on the meaning of the feast of the Epiphany, let us look to the One who is the answer to our searching, and the fulfillment of God's promise. Let us pray for the grace to recognize that which leads us to the personal encounter with Christ, as did the magi when they followed the star:
Go before us with heavenly light, O Lord,
always and everywhere,
that we may perceive with clear sight
and revere with true affection
the mystery in which you have willed us to participate.
Through Christ our Lord.
Prayer after Communion, Solemnity of Epiphany, Roman Missal.
Provided by the Office for Formation for Discipleship, Archdiocese of Toronto.