It’s an interesting fact that the Feast of the Epiphany has been celebrated much longer than Christmas. Epiphany was solidly in place on the Christian calendar by the end of the 3 rd century whereas Christmas took a while longer to evolve. It wasn’t universally celebrated until the 8th century.
It was the Eastern Church that gave the Feast of the Epiphany its Greek name. It means manifestation – God appearing among us. The star in Matthew’s story of the Magi is the central image of the feast. It led the wise men to Bethlehem, the birthplace of the King of the Jews, our redeemer and Lord. From the very beginning, this story has been the spiritual icon of humankind’s journey to discover God.
It’s also interesting to see how the Eastern Church has integrated Matthew’s star into its daily liturgy. Above the paten, called the diskos, the dish that holds the squares of bread used for the Eucharist, a cross-shaped dome is placed, the asterisk, from which hangs the Magi’s star. It’s a tiny beacon guiding the worshipper to the Christ now, the bread of life.
The Church gifts us with this wonderful Feast of the Epiphany as a spiritual map. It reminds us that each of us is on the same journey as the Magi. Every day of our lives we take another step in that journey.
The story of their journey reminds us, that in the course of our personal and communal journeys, there will be some days when we may feel sure-footed and the mysterious star of our longing is clear and bright. We feel sure that we’re getting closer to our journey’s end. Hope and joy strengthens us for the next day.
The journey of the Magi also reminds us that days may come when every step is a drudgery, our feet may be like lead, and the path may seem to grow steeper with every step. Sometimes, the star may even disappear from our sight. Patiently, or sometimes despondent, we pause and wait for the dark clouds to disappear.
The Feast of the Epiphany is our yearly reminder that, in mystery, we reach the goal of our journey whenever we celebrate the Eucharist. What may seem like a simple march to the altar is, symbolically, the lifetime of our journey. We, too, follow the star; it’s the light of our faith beaming its light on our extended hands. Amen, we say, as we receive the bread of life. What strength we receive from that small bit of bread enough strength to, once again, step onto the path of the Magi’s journey.