Tag Archives: Epiphany

We 3 Kings — not biblical

The outstanding hymn that we enjoy singing around Christmas describes 3 wisemen (Kings). In reality, the Bible never said there were 3 wisemen. There could have been only 2 or even 4 or 5. This is an example of repeating a song/myth so often that we come to believe it.

John H. Hopkins, Jr (1820 – 1891) was an American clergyman and hymnodist. After he graduated from General Theological Seminary, he was the seminary’s first music teacher. He composed “We Three Kings” (1857) as part of a Christmas pageant for his nieces and nephews. Americans conclude that there were three wise men based primarily on this hymn.

We three kings of Orient are;
Bearing gifts we traverse afar,
Field and fountain, moor and mountain,
Following yonder star.

Refrain: O star of wonder, star of night,
Star with royal beauty bright,
Westward leading, still proceeding,
Guide us to thy perfect light.

Born a King on Bethlehem’s plain
Gold I bring to crown Him again,
King forever, ceasing never,
Over us all to reign. Refrain

Frankincense to offer have I;
Incense owns a Deity nigh;
Prayer and praising, voices raising,
Worshiping God on high. Refrain

Myrrh is mine, its bitter perfume
Breathes a life of gathering gloom;
Sorr’wing, sighing, bleeding, dying,
Sealed in the stone cold tomb. Refrain

Glorious now behold Him arise;
King and God and sacrifice;
Alleluia, Alleluia,
Sounds through the earth and skies.

Laywoman’s Epiphany

Epiphany isn’t a season that gets much attention, sandwiched between Christmas and Easter.  In this respect is like the hidden or veiled aspects of Jesus’ earthly ministry.

As a laywoman in a liturgical church, often I still ask, “What is Epiphany?” Epiphany is childhood Sunday School: Gospel stories of Jesus being baptized, healing the blind, the sick, the mute, the lame, teaching in the synagogues “with authority,” rebuking the Pharisees, and feeding the thousands with a few loaves and fishes. Epiphany is Jesus being chased by the crowds, trying to sneak away to the quiet places, telling people “don’t tell anyone what I’ve done for you;” but, they always do.

Epiphany is Jesus telling parables and then explaining them to his slow disciples. Epiphany is Jesus asking, “Who do you say I am?” Epiphany is the light of Christmas, bursting into wildfire. It is the babe in the manger, the Son of God walking among us.  It is the transfiguration on the mountaintop that made those Apostles closest to him, those who walked with him every day, fall down and worship Jesus in awe of his glory. In a church which follows a lectionary and seasons of the church year, the earthly life of Jesus is laid out like one of those thorny parables he told. Often, like the disciples we need some explanation. Hearing the same stories year-after-year, eventually, we put Jesus’ life together. There is good in the repetition of the church year. The familiar doesn’t become old. It becomes home.

As a wife and mother, I haven’t been intentional about celebrating the season of Epiphany in our home. Even when I’m doing my best to walk with Jesus, I need the blazing light of the transfigured Christ during the Epiphany season to shine on me and leave me speechless for a time. My young school-aged children have heard about the wise men visiting the baby Jesus; they know the story well. We talk about Jesus and his miracles and life as often as a teaching moment presents itself.

My goal is to live a life truly transformed by Christ, so I see more of these teaching moments. I want to see more of the connections between the life of Jesus and immediate circumstances in my life as wife and mother. Some days it seems I am slow to learn these connections. Perhaps, that is how God planned it, learning about Christ is a year-after-year process, a life-long process.

Our personal “epiphanies” of what God is doing in our lives often come after a struggle, thinking he wasn’t there, and finally understanding that he was with us the whole time. In our weakness and infirmities, we seek Jesus as many in the crowds did—to just touch him so he will touch us. We want Jesus to take pity on us, to turn toward us rather than away from us, to feed us, and to teach us. The great news is that Jesus wants to feed us, teach us, and take pity on us. Jesus never turns from us.

*Written by Kathy Miller, St. John Lutheran Church, Roanoke, Virginia.

Where did Star of Bethlaham Go?

In ancient time, travelers didn’t have GPS.  Most travelers navigated a journey by following stars. Travelers and astronomers knew the night sky. Based on their observations over decades, astronomers knew that star constellations and, what we now know as, planets moved in a prescribed pattern over a year’s time. They trusted this annual rotation of heavenly bodies. You can imagine how surprised these same astronomers were to see a new phenomenon in the night sky.  They didn’t know how to describe it, except to call it a “star.”

Today, a goodly number of Bible scholars and secular astronomers believe that the Star of Bethlehem was an alignment of stars and planets in the Leo constellation. They include the star Regulus (king) in Leo and four plants. Those planets were Jupiter, the largest planet in our solar system and the planets Mars, Mercury, and Venus.

Many astronomers and wise men (Magi) in ancient Near Eastern countries lived in Persia. As they talked with one another about the new star that appeared in the sky, they concluded that it must herald the birth of a king. Perhaps, they remembered Balaam’s oracle regarding the Israelites: “I see him, but not now; I behold him, but not near.  A star shall come out of Jacob; and a scepter shall rise out of Israel” (Numbers 24:17 NIV). Several of the wise men determined to follow the star to see this new-born king. Of course, they carried presents for the baby.

Following the star, the wise men arrived in Jerusalem and went to King Herod’s court. They expected that a newborn king would be birthed in a palace, amid a court. The Magi asked King Herod, “Where is the one who has been born king of the Jews? We saw his star in the east and have come to worship Him” (Matthew 2:2 NIV). King Herod was flabbergasted. He didn’t see a new star in the night sky. His own wise men didn’t tell him about one. Most assuredly, King Herod knew nothing about a newborn king. When King Herod learned that the future king would be born in Bethlehem, he directed the wise men to continue following the star. Once the wise men learned exactly where this newborn king was, they were to report back to him, ostensibly, so he too could go and worship the king.

Following the star, the wise men came to a humble house in Bethlehem where Joseph, Mary, and the young child lived. Although we celebrate Epiphany 13 days after the feast day for Jesus’ birth, best evidence indicates that the wise men didn’t arrive in Bethlehem for a year, possibly, even two years, after Jesus’ birth. The star that led the wise men to the home where Joseph, Mary, and Jesus lived, wasn’t spectacularly bright. The Bible doesn’t tell us that Joseph and Mary ever saw a large star over their home. Likewise, there isn’t Bible documentation that King Herod saw the star.

The Bible doesn’t identify, what happened to the star. Did it disappear or stop moving when the wise men reached the home of Jesus? If the star was an alignment of planets and Regulus, it would have continued to move westward in the night sky. Yet, the wise men didn’t continue to follow the star westward. They returned to Persia without going back to Jerusalem and reporting to King Herod.

The star’s presence was a heavenly announcement that God’s son was born to humankind; and this son would save both Jew and Gentile from sins. As stars rule the night sky, Jesus Christ rules the powers of darkness on earth.

What is Epiphany Season

Although some churches celebrate Epiphany on the Sunday nearest January 6, Epiphany Day occurs on January 6, or 12 days after the birth of Jesus (December 25). The Epiphany season (Epiphantide) extends from January 6 to the start of Lent on Ash Wednesday. It encompasses six-to-eight Sundays depending on the date of Easter. In some churches, these Sundays are named Ordinary Time; however, better labels are the First Sunday of Epiphany, Second Sunday of Epiphany, etc. The feast of Epiphany originated in the Eastern Church and reflects the mystical thinking in Eastern Christian churches, to include the weaving and reweaving of themes in celebrations.

Epiphany Day (January 6) ends the Christmas season. The Epiphany season is time to lift our eyes from gifts, parties, and Christmas trees. In Epiphany, we imagine the faith it took for Magi (wise men) to follow a star up to one thousand miles. Their journey was hazardous. Most people they encountered couldn’t see this “so called” star they followed. At almost every stop or town along the way, the wise men were ridiculed when they told local people that they followed a star which was leading them to a new-born king.

During Epiphany, we focus on our own faith. As we reach out to others with the good news of Jesus, we modern day “wise men” must be ready for physical hazards, laughter, and incredulity. Still, as the wise men kept going from their home in the East to Bethlehem, we too must keep reaching out with our belief in Jesus and his redemptive work that began when he was born in Bethlehem of Judah in the days of Herod, the King. The four main concepts of Epiphany10 are:

Divine Manifestation. Epiphany is a Greek word epiphania, which means “a god visited earth.”  Twelve days before the start of Epiphany, God came to earth as the baby Jesus. Jesus’ birth was the first incarnate manifestation of God the Son to humankind, but not his last manifestation. At the end of the ages, Jesus will again walk the earth. In this final manifestation, Jesus will bring with him an army of angels.

Royal Kingship. God’s son, the baby Jesus, was a manifestation of the greatest king that ever lived. At Christmas, Jesus was shown to Jews. At Epiphany, he was shown to Gentiles. At the end of the ages, when Jesus returns in all his majesty, the designation Jew and Gentile will be irrelevant. At that time, Jesus, the king of kings, will separate the righteous from the unrighteous regardless of whether the individual is of Jewish or Gentile heritage.

Light. The third theme that runs through the Epiphany season is light. During the Advent season, the world was in darkness. Christians prayed and waited for the coming birth of Messiah and his second coming in judgment. At Christmas, the Light broke forth; but, was seen only by Mary, Joseph, and the shepherds. At Epiphany, the mysterious star summoned Gentiles to benefit from the work of God’s son. The prophecy is fulfilled: “The nations shall come to your light, and kings to the brightness of your rising” (Isaiah 60:3 ESV).

The royal nuptials. Marriage, or nuptials, is the final theme in the Epiphany season. Two thousand years ago God’s son married into humanity. Christ is the bridegroom and the Church his bride. Jesus’s celebration of the marriage feast at Cana is symbolic of Jesus’ marriage to the Church. The wise-men from a far-off Gentile country hurried to the wedding feast with royal wedding gifts, gold, frankincense, and myrrh.