The Mysterious Star of Epiphany, ”flashing like a flame” – trettondagsmorgon glimma
On Epiphany we do not commemorate a set of historical facts as much as we celebrate a great mystery.
Of course, this is not a new idea for Orthodox Christians and Eastern Catholics. Among Eastern Christians, January 6th is the Feast of the Theophany. On this day, Eastern Christians celebrate simultaneously the birth of Christ in the manger, the presentation of Jesus in the temple, and the baptism of Jesus in the Jordan River. And thus in each case, the manifestation of Christ’s true identity as the cosmic Word come to redeem all creation. One of the two kontakion (a thematic hymn, akin to a homily, to be sung at Orthos or Morning Prayer) reveal in poetic form the themes of the feast (translation from Fr. Apostolos Hill’s Cycles of Grace: Hymns from the Great Feast, Byzantine Chant in English):
Thou hast appeared today/to the inhabited earth/and thy light, O Lord,/has been marked upon us/who with knowledge sing thy praise/Thou hast come/Thou art made manifest/The light that no man can approach.
So then let us turn back to the feast of the Epiphany in the West, the celebration of the moment in which the Magi come to Christ bestowing gifts. This is not a cute, saccharine affair (see the hymn, O Little Town of Bethlehem as an example of such sweetness). Rather, the Magi–pagan kings–perceive in the wondrous light of the newly shining star the true identity of the infant. But, they do not stop with the visible light. The Magi are themselves rulers, wise men, who know the truth that the infant born in a cave is the true king of the earth. And what do they offer this king but gold, frankincense, and myrrh. Gold the gift of kings. Frankincense the incense of priests. Myrrh for the healing of wounds. The Magi seem to know remarkably well the identity of the infant. For he is the king, who created the very cosmos. He is the priest, who will offer himself as the fragrant offering in expiation of our sins. He is himself the healing balm, whose passion, death, and resurrection will heal the human condition. What mystery in such gifts. On the Ephipany, it seems necessary that we in the West remind ourselves of this reality, making sure to sing the whole hymn “We Three Kings” (I invite you to listen to the lyrics in the video below):
Epiphany in Christianity is feast celebrating the ‘shining forth’ or revelation of God to mankind in human form, in the person of Jesus Christ. The observance had its origins in the eastern Christian church, and included the birth of Jesus Christ; the visit of the three Magi (Caspar, Melchior and Balthasar) who arrived in Bethlehem; and all of Jesus’ childhood events, up to his baptism in the Jordan by John the Baptist.
The feast was initially based on (and viewed as a fulfillment of) the Jewish Feast of Lights. This was fixed on January 6. Observers of Epiphany often celebrate the Christmas holiday as well on December 25.