Epiphany

 “The Adoration of the Magic” Tapestry designed by Edward Burned Jones, details by William Morris & John Henry Dearle. Woven in 1894.

“The Adoration of the Magic” Tapestry designed by Edward Burned Jones, details by William Morris & John Henry Dearle. Woven in 1894.

Today, the 6th of January is traditionally the feast of the Epiphany, celebrating (among other things) the Magi’s encountering the infant Jesus at the manger. The term “Epiphany” comes from the Greek ἐπιφάνεια, epiphaneia—“manifestation” or “appearance”. This marks the “Twelfth Day” of Christmas observances, and in some traditions, the end of the Christmas season.

The concept of the Epiphany can be extended to include any kind of “Theopany” or appearance/revelation of a divine being. But this feast celebrates the encounter with the infant Jesus, the divine manifest as a child. There is a particular grace that does indeed descend, as it were, from above, when we encounter any newborn child. It is as if we as adults recognize and remember our own innate purity in the presence of a baby. A softness manifests between the child and the beholder. The experience is humbling. And the divine incarnation (“avatar”—“the One who descends”) manifesting as a human being is theologically the supreme humbling of the divine, the great expression of grace. And those who behold that manifestation of grace cannot help but find themselves humbled, full of gratitude. In this tapestry depicting the Epiphany, the three “wise men”, all of them kings, have removed their crowns. One crown is itself laid on the ground before the God-child. Their heads are bowed, their gifts presented. Their kingliness, their wisdom, manifests in their letting go of their kingly status, and in their submission of their knowledge to the unknown star, followed to a place beyond any and all expectations, to a simple manger. Indeed here that star, held in the angel’s hands, stops its wandering, above the discarded crown, and illuminates the very face of the Beloved Child. The divine encounter, the divine vision, beheld clearly through a most blessed meekness, through the mutual shedding of veils, a transcendence gifted through a shared descending.