In the earliest centuries of the Church, the “Christmas feasts” occurring after Christmas Day were all celebrated on January 6. By the fourth century, some dioceses began to celebrate the feast of Christmas and the feast of the Epiphany separately, on December 25 and January 6 respectively, creating the “twelve days of Christmas” as the Christmas Season.
The Feast of the Epiphany is associated with the “visit of the Magi” – “Three Wise Men,” sometimes called the “Three Kings” – whom tradition holds followed a star to Bethlehem to worship the newborn Messiah with gifts of “gold, frankincense and myrrh.” The Gospel of Matthew 2: 1-12, however, is the only Gospel to mention the “wise men.” It does not give their number, does not identify them as “kings,” and does not say “when” they visited. The details of this part of the “Christmas story” have been debated by Scripture scholars for centuries but this “visit” has a significant purpose.
The Greek roots of the word “epiphany” mean “manifestation from above.” In the Latin or Western Catholic Church, the Solemnity of the Epiphany refers to the revelation that Jesus is the Son of God, the promised Messiah, visited and adored by the wise men. In the Eastern Catholic Church, the preferred word used to describe the feast is “theophany” or “appearance of God.” While Western and Eastern Catholic traditions sometimes differ in particular details or reference, Christmas or the Nativity of the Lord need both “epiphany” and “theophany” to understand its true meaning and significance. The point of the stories and the traditions that have surrounded its development and interpretation lead us to the conclusion that Jesus, born in Bethlehem, is the long-awaited Divine Messiah, foretold by the Old Testament prophets, revealed as the Son of God, and recognized as such by those who witnessed his presence on earth as the source of human salvation by God.
Let us pray: Heavenly Father, you revealed your Son to the nations by the guidance of a star. Lead us to your glory in heaven by the light of faith. We ask this through our Lord Jesus Christ, your Son, who, lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, forever and ever. Amen.