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Epiphany – Meaning

Ordin­ar­ily, epi­phany refers to that very moment when a per­son sud­denly feels that he or she under­stands, or sud­denly becomes con­scious of some­thing that is very import­ant. On the oth­er hand, it is a potent reli­gious exper­i­ence. The Mer­ri­am-Web­ster Dic­tion­ary renders it as sud­den mani­fest­a­tion or per­cep­tion of the essen­tial nature or mean­ing of some­thing; an illu­min­at­ing dis­cov­ery, real­iz­a­tion, or dis­clos­ure; a reveal­ing scene or moment. It is the appear­ance or mani­fest­a­tion espe­cially of a divine being. Accord­ing to its Greek ori­gin, epi­phany derives from epi (in this con­text on, upon) and phainō (show one­self, appear). While the verb is epi­phainō, the noun is epi­phaneia (appear­ance, appear­ing, com­ing). Meta­phor­ic­ally, that is, in ref­er­ence to divine inter­ven­tion, epi­phainō means to give light, shine on or shine upon (cf. Luke 1:79). In our con­text, we can take epi­phainō both in its ordin­ary and meta­phor­ic­al senses. God shows him­self, appears to man­kind, gives light to man­kind and shines upon the face of the earth to bright­en and enlight­en the way of the people. In this reli­gious con­nota­tion, epi­phaneia refers to Janu­ary 6 observed as a church fest­iv­al in com­mem­or­a­tion of the com­ing of the magoi as the first mani­fest­a­tion of Jesus to the Gen­tiles (cf. Matt 2:1–12) or in the East­ern Church in com­mem­or­a­tion of the bap­tism of Jesus. For Chris­ti­ans, epi­phaneia has two­fold mean­ing. Firstly, it refers to the tan­gible appear­ance of Jesus on earth at the end of his­tory. Accord­ing to Paul’s descrip­tion in 2Thessalonians 2:1–12, the advent of the law­less man will pre­cede the vis­ible appear­ance of the Lord Jesus. In this pas­sage, Paul asso­ci­ates epi­phaneia and par­ousia. The man of law­less­ness is already at work (cf. 2Thess 2:7), but the Lord Jesus will des­troy him by the splend­our (epi­phaneia) of his com­ing (par­ousia), cf. 2Thess 2:8. Secondly, Chris­ti­ans also applied/apply epi­phaneia to the earthly appear­ance of the Saviour in his incarn­a­tion (cf. 2Tim 1:10).

What We Celebrate

What exactly are we cel­eb­rat­ing? If epi­phaneia is the mani­fest­a­tion of Jesus to the Gen­tiles, then, what are we cel­eb­rat­ing? Since the Word took flesh and dwelt among us, that is, among man­kind and pre­cisely, among Chris­ti­ans, there is no need cel­eb­rat­ing the mani­fest­a­tion of Jesus to the Gen­tiles because Jesus dwells among Chris­ti­ans. This now takes us to the oth­er mean­ings of epi­phainō and epi­phaneia. If, as regards God’s inter­ven­tion epi­phainō means giv­ing light and shin­ing upon, then, what we are cel­eb­rat­ing is the divine light shin­ing upon us thanks to the logos pitch­ing his tent among us. Con­sequently, we are now con­scious of the divine appear­ance in the his­tory of mankind.


As stated above, on receiv­ing the news of the birth of the future king, Herod became highly dis­turbed. Why? The reas­on is obvi­ous. He saw him­self as an abso­lute king who exer­cised abso­lute power. How can there be anoth­er king out­side Herod? This was a ser­i­ous threat to him and to his throne. In fact, he ensured the child was elim­in­ated, but as Isai­ah put it God’s ways are dif­fer­ent from human way (cf. Isa 55:8–9). This kind of beha­viour con­tinu­ous even today. Just look around in the polit­ic­al world and you will mar­vel at what hap­pens there. What about reli­gious con­text? Things are even worse there. People doing all sort of evil just to get rid of the pre­sumed oppon­ent. Some people see them­selves as the only ones fit for every post. They are ready to do any­thing and everything to be in com­mand. Such people have ser­i­ous psy­cho­lo­gic­al defect. Unfor­tu­nately, there are…

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