Epiphany is one of my favorite feasts and has been since childhood. It’s a feast of movement, of response, a feast that celebrates human wonder, openness, self-offering, and joy. The Gloria sung by the angels at Christ’s birth continues to resound, and the promise of peace is amplified by the appearance of the magi. At Epiphany, we remember God’s love for all the people of the earth; we reflect on our own journeys to Christ, and we recommit ourselves to communion with all of our brothers and sisters.
On this feast, we also celebrate child-like wonder and trust. How many of us still delight in watching the figures of the wise men get closer and closer to the crèches set up in our churches and homes? When I was young, I kept a close eye on the movements of the magi in the cathedral that was our family church. There, the three kings traveled from the south transept, passing the lectern and edging their way along the base of the rood screen towards the manger beneath the pulpit. Just before Epiphany, they had to make a great leap across the central aisle, and I was always thrilled to see them safely on the other side.
Here in the monastery, the magi don’t have to cross an aisle, but their journey is no less perilous. Our nativity is to the right of the ambo, so the three kings have had to travel from the behind the presider’s chair, along the ledge beneath the rock on which our tabernacle rests, and then through a forest of poinsettias and Norfolk pines.
The magi were guided by the star at night, but they were also driven by desire, expectation, and hope, an inner light, if you will. Their hope was realized: “When they saw that the star had stopped, they were overwhelmed with joy” (Mt 2:10). William Chatterton Dix was inspired by these lines from Matthew, and many congregations sing his great hymn “As with Gladness, Men of Old” on this feast:
As with gladness men of old
Did the guiding star behold;
As with joy they hailed its light,
Leading onward, beaming bright;
So, most gracious Lord, may we
Evermore be led by Thee!
We need to bring the joy of Epiphany to each new day and each person we encounter. Our own journeys take us across deserts and wastelands, through swamps and turbulent waters, and over mountains and rocky ground, whether physical, spiritual, or emotional. We stumble, sink, tire, ache, and sometimes get discouraged. We seek an eternal light; we advance with gladness. And the end of our journey is communion: with God, with each other.
How very appropriate that we celebrate Epiphany, this great feast of revelation and community, shortly before the Week of Prayer for Christian Unity (18-25 January). “As with gladness,” may we all journey forward toward Christ and toward each other, so that all may be one, united to adore the Holy Child, united around the Table of our Lord.