Although we might have all but forgotten the Epiphany in the UK, it’s still a holiday in many countries on the Continent, where children dress up as the three kings and make cakes in the shape of crowns. But in the early church, it was Epiphany, not Christmas, which was the big holiday. (Christmas came about as a sort of add-on because there was so much to remember and celebrate at Epiphany!)
So what’s Epiphany all about? Well, epiphany means ‘manifestation’, and this is the feast of the manifestation (or revelation) of Christ, the Incarnate God, to the world. That’s why we think about things like the visit of the Magi, Jesus’ presentation in the temple, Simeon and Anna, Jesus’ baptism, and the Transfiguration at Epiphany, because at Epiphany we’re rejoicing in the fact that God has revealed Himself in the flesh to and for the world.
At Christmas we celebrate that God the Son has come in the flesh. At Epiphany we celebrate that God the Son has come in the flesh FOR US. At Christmas we rejoice that the God-Man was born. At Epiphany we rejoice that the God-Man has been revealed to Jew and Gentile, to young and old, to men and women and boys and girls, to rich and poor, to pagans (like the Magi) and to believers (like Simeon and Anna), to people in the 1st century and to people in the 21st.
Epiphany is a Gospel feast. In fact, Epiphany is a feast of the proclamation of the Gospel. We’re not just remembering the facts today, but that this truth is a truth to be proclaimed and revealed to the whole world.
The collect for the feast of the Epiphany has a wonderful phrase that proclaims the goal of this proclamation and revelation of the Incarnate God to the world: ‘that we … may after this life have the fruition of thy glorious Godhead.’ Unfortunately ‘fruition’ is a word we don’t use all that much anymore, so the meaning isn’t immediately clear (we tend to think of it being about fruit or the result of something) and the modern translations of the collect don’t manage to succinctly sum up the import of that word.
But ‘fruition’ is a wonderful old word which means ‘the action of enjoying pleasurable possession.’ So, the Epiphany is all about how God has revealed Himself in the flesh FOR US so that we may enjoy the pleasurable possession of Him. Or as the Shorter Catechism puts it, that we might ‘enjoy Him forever.’ The Epiphany (and the proclamation of the Gospel) is ultimately about enjoying a good relationship with the good God who has made Himself ours in Jesus.
The Collect for the Epiphany:
O God, who by the leading of a star didst manifest thy only-begotten Son to the Gentiles: Mercifully grant, that we, which know thee now by faith, may after this life have the fruition of thy glorious Godhead: through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.