Sunday, January 07, 2007

Epiphany, observed

Traditionally the feast of Epiphany falls on January 6, the ‘twelfth day of Christmas,’ but in the United States, the celebration is moved to the closest Sunday. In some cultures, presents are not exchanged until Epiphany in remembrance of the gifts the magi (or kings or wise men) brought to Jesus. They didn’t bring Him clothes or toys or gift certificates, but instead offered gold, frankincense, and myrrh. These gifts have great symbolic weight: gold for a King, frankincense for God (incense was burned to worship God, the rising smoke represented prayers and offerings rising up to Heaven), and myrrh for the man who would give his life as a sacrifice (myrrh was used in embalming corpses).

Epiphany also has another particular importance for us. Before the magi arrived, everyone else in the Christmas story (Joseph, Mary, Jesus, the shepherds) was Jewish. The Messiah was expected by Jews to save and restore the Hebrew nation. The magi were Gentiles (non-Jews) and thus showed that Jesus was born, died, and rose for all people (including us).