Brightest and best of the stars of the morning,
Dawn on our darkness, and lend us thine aid;
Star of the East, the horizon adorning,
Guide where our Infant Redeemer is laid.*
Epiphany: the twelfth day after Christmas, the arrival of the Magi at the manger, the culmination of the Nativity Season. The Nativity Season celebrates the wonderful three-piece mystery of the Incarnation: Christ is predicted (Advent), Christ is born (Christmas), and Christ will spread like wildfire (Epiphany). The Feast of the Epiphany is not just the single day when the church honors the arrival of Magi who followed the “Star of the East” to the manger. And it is not just the finale of the Christmas story for another year. Epiphany means “shining forth” and foretells the journey of faithful followers away from the infant Jesus in the safety of his crib to the unpredictable and scandalous manifestation of God in and around the world.
If nothing had happened after the prediction and birth of Jesus, we would not be having this Nativity Season celebration or this conversation at all. The story of the wisemen coming to see Jesus and dispersing to faraway places to share the news of his birth is an invitation for all people far and wide to be part of the miracle of what happened in a tiny town in a tiny part of the Roman Empire.
Epiphany is really about another “E” word, that scary word called Evangelism. With the Magi as the first parade leaders, Epiphany invites us to join the procession of millions of other people before us. Sharing what they and we have heard and experienced in the literal or cosmic presence of Jesus is the way we shine forth. When we spread the stories of Jesus’s birth, ministry, teaching, preaching, miracles, rabble rousing, crucifixion, death, and resurrection we become part of the growing constellation of star-struck evangelists. Epiphany is a celebration of how the Word of God and the Good News of God’s Love in Jesus Christ continues to shine and spread like wildfire.
Thanks to Carleton Bakkum for his starry Epiphany painting.
*Reginald Heber, an Anglican bishop, 1811 “Brightest and Best of the Sons of the Morning.” In the first line the original word is “sons,” not stars.