Epiphany:  The Rest of the Rest of the Christmas Story

January 6, 2023

For many Christians, the Feast of Epiphany marks the end of the Christmas Season and is the culminating celebration of the Twelve Days of Christmas.  The story of the Epiphany is found only in the Gospel of Matthew, Chapter Two, and it involves the non-Jewish wise men/kings/magi/astronomers (supposedly three, but no number is given in the text) who make their treacherous journey across the Middle East in search of the child prophesied to be the Messiah.  They bring their symbolic gifts of gold (kingship/royalty), frankincense (worship), and myrrh  (embalming/death) and present them to Mary before departing “by another route” to avoid alerting King Herod to the whereabouts of his kingly competition.  This story (factual or symbolic) is the last snippet we have of Jesus’ entrance into our world. 

An “epiphany” is any kind of manifestation, insight, inspiration, realization, vision, or understanding.  For these scientific men (assumed to be astrologers) from the East, seeing Jesus (who was probably a toddler by the time, not a baby in a manger or an indulged child in a palace) broke something open in them.  Their minds gave way to an unfolding of their hearts as they received the epiphany that this child was, indeed, the Messiah prophesied in the Hebrew scriptures.  They became the recipients of an indwelling, the possession of a spiritual insight, that changed them, as understood by the metaphor of traveling home “by another route.”  Just as the lowliest of the low, the shepherds, were the first people invited to come see the newborn babe, these intellectual, rational foreigners were the ones called to experience an indwelling.  The birth of Christ was/is an invitation for all people to the Divine Light.

Ralph Waldo Emerson once wrote, “If the stars should appear but one night every thousand years how man would marvel and stare.”  So much of the world takes the stars for granted, just as the news of Christmas, of Epiphany, becomes old hat.  Maybe if we only heard this story once every thousand years it would shatter our world as it did the wise men’s, as it did the shepherds, as it did the Evangelist’s John’s when he realized (epiphany) that his beloved friend Jesus was truly God:  “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God” (John 1:1).  God Itself—the creator of everything—put on our flesh; God, like the wise men, embarked on a dangerous journey to bring a gift, a light to the world, an understanding of who God is through Jesus, God’s own expression of God’s self:  “In him (Jesus) was life, and that life was the light of all people”  (John 1:4).

In Jesus, through Jesus, the Divine Creator invites us to see, hear, and know It in ways never before possible.  Epiphany.  Our own relationship to that cosmic, distant, impersonal God is changed because God gifts us access, not only by being with us, but by being one of us, living with with us, in our own real, torn, corrupt, and broken world, in the middle of our own experiences, our own weaknesses, our own confusion, our own pain, our own death. No matter how we may feel, who we are, or where we find ourselves, we are never alone.

“The Light shines in the darkness, and the darkness cannot overcome it” (John 1:5.)  That epiphany, the promise of light and presence and hope, is the rest of the rest of the Christmas story when we have the eyes to see, the hearts to receive, and the desire to go “by another route.”

May we all be graced with epiphanies!  ~  Rosemary

Indwelling

It can happen anytime, anywhere,
if we have the eyes to see
the hearts to unfold.
It happened to Anna and Simeon,
the old, hunched-over prophets
who understood
and rejoiced.
It happened to the teenage
girl, startled, confused,
perhaps too naïve to really understand
the truth
of the moment.
It happened to the lowliest
of the low, shepherds
smelling of dung and wet wool
and also
to kings threatened by the very
nerve of it.
It happened to rational scientists,
astrologers curious about a star-sighting
that flickered light across
a desert.
It happens when a yellow rose unfurling
beckons us to bend and savor its aroma,
when we wake up to humanity
gathered around us on the subway,
when our newborn baby
sounds its first cry.
It happens in cancer wards
as two people embrace,
in the quiet morning when a candle
first comes to life,
at the lunch counter
where the salt is passed,
driving past the beggar
who will work for food.
Our eyes open, sometimes
with tears. Our hearts clench
or even expand, our breath,
our spirit, catches,
and we know
we have been gifted an
indwelling,
a seed planted in us
an understanding granted us
a hope winding its way
through us,
a light illuminating
our darkness as we let forth
a sacred sigh
and bow our heads
in wonder.

©  Rosemary McMahan

Photo credit: Rosemary McMahan

Author: remcmahan

Poet, writer, minister, wanderer, traveler on the way, Light-seeker ~ hoping others will join me on the journey of discovering who we are and were meant to be. You can reach me at 20rosepoet20@gmail.com or at my blog, Spirit-reflections.org.

8 thoughts on “Epiphany:  The Rest of the Rest of the Christmas Story”

  1. Your narrative and poetry bring their own freshness to these ancient stories! Thank you, in particular for the “ah ha” moment of the phrase, “by another route”; the metaphor is so compelling. May we all take comfort in the Light that guides us from within. Spiritual writer, Sr. Joyce Rupp, writes in her recent Epiphany reflections, “We each have a North Star within us, the presence of the Spirit’s guiding light”. She encourages us to “trust our inner Light”. Thank you, dear Rosemary for beautifully shining your own light into our hearts, and for sharing your wisdom and your epiphanies. Blessings to you in this season of Light and Love.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. I’ve always loved celebrating Epiphany. We don’t always leave the Christmas tree or other decorations up, except for the Nativity set. I love the ritual of moving the Wise Men(Women) a bit closer to the stable everyday. Once more, your reflection and poem has offered fresh insights. Thank you for all you do and all you are.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. Thanks, Rosemary, for a beautiful “exit” from the Christmas season, which is always a little sad for me. Your poem is exquisite and reminds me that the light and “showing” of Christmas continues on in our hearts and actions.
    When my sister-in-law was receiving chemo, I sometimes accompanied her to Sloan Kettering in New York City. We were in Penn Station, and I left her in the waiting room to go to the restroom. As I walked back toward her, I heard her saying something encouraging to the person next to her who had been sharing a problem. And I sensed, as much as saw, a warm light glowing around Diane that brightened up the whole row of seats where she sat in that dank, underground room. The light emanated from something beautiful deep within her, a Spirit of love despite her dire circumstance. Your poem reminded me of that.

    Liked by 1 person

  4. Thank you for so often giving us means to epiphanies. “The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness cannot overcome it” is one of my favorite verses, and I always think of you when I read it.

    Liked by 1 person

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