Yesterday was the Feast of the Epiphany. On this day the Church traditionally celebrates the manifestation of Jesus, the Light of the world. “Epiphany” dervives from two Greek words: fainw and epi. Fainw means “to shine” and epi means “on”. So, Epiphany celebrates the shining forth of Jesus. Now, before we start singing “Shine, Jesus, Shine,” let’s reflect more on the “shining forth” of Jesus.
Epiphany also commemorates the visit of the three wise men. These three magi, wise men from the East, followed a star until this star stood right over the house where Jesus was. They followed a star, which led them to the Light of the World. The Gospel of John says, “And the light shineth in the darkness; and the darkness comprehended it not” (1:5). This darkness took the form of an envious king who hated all challenges to his authority. This wicked king Herod killed all the male babies in Bethlehem in his efforts to extinguish the light of the world.
But Epiphany doesn’t stop there. At Epiphany, we also celebrate the baptism of Jesus. No, Jesus was not baptized as an infant. Epiphany is a flash-forward of Christ’s birth and manifestation in the world. At his baptism, his divinity was manifest in a special way. The Eastern Orthodox church makes much of Epiphany because Jesus’ baptism was the first time the Holy Trinity was manifest in human history. God the Father spoke from the clouds, Jesus was baptized, and the Spirit descended as a dove (Lk. 3:21-22). Here the Father declared that Jesus was the Son of God. Jesus, the light of the world, began his public ministry, and the light of God shown more brightly in the darkness. “In him was life, and the life was the light of men” (Jn. 1:4).
But what’s with the dove? And why was Jesus baptized if he never sinned? Did he need to repent? No. But, Jesus’ baptism pointed forward to his entire purpose in becoming man. The dove reminds us of Noah and the flood. After the waters of divine judgment were poured out over a sinful world, the dove brought back the first fruits of the new creation. In the same way, God would pour the waters of judgment over Christ. Christ would then be the first fruits of the New Creation. Epiphany celebrates all this and more. Epiphany reminds us that we must always walk in the light of Christ. Christmas was the beginning of Christ’s manifestation, and the light of Christ is filling the earth more and more through the ministry of the Church. But when we look at this light, we instantly see how much darkness remains in ourselves. So let us confess our sins to Almighty God.