Epiphany, which we celebrated today has been traditionally celebrated on January 6 by the Roman Catholic Church in the West. On the following Sunday the Commemoration of the Baptism of the Lord is observed. The two are closely related because they both are epiphanies, which comes from the Greek and means made manifest, usually made manifest as divine.
Both feasts celebrate the manifestation of Jesus as God’s Son and Messiah and at one time they were both celebrated on the same day, a custom still maintained by the Armenian Church. Celebration of the Epiphany as a feast commemorating the entire Christmas cycle is a very ancient custom, probably before Christmas became a separate feast. St. Luke tells of the divinity of Jesus being manifested to the gentile world in the persons of the wise men.
The Feast of the Baptism of the Lord recalls His divinity and messiahship being manifested and revealed to the Jewish world, when at His baptism by John the Baptist “a voice came from the heavens, saying, ‘This is my beloved Son, with whom I am well pleased’.”(Matt 3:17) The Baptism of the Lord has always been a major feast in the Eastern Catholic and Orthodox Churches, but it was not instituted as a separate feast by the Catholic Church until 1955.
Manifestations of Jesus’ Divinity and messiahship exist today in the Church through the witness of individual Christians whose discipleship manifests to the world the continuing presence of Jesus’ healing and forgiving love. I believe this is what Pope Francis is trying to do; make the Church a shining light that reveals Jesus’ continuing presence in the world.
In a general audience last November Pope Francis reminded us that: “To be holy it is not necessary to be bishops, priests or religious. … We are all called to be holy! … It is by offering one’s own Christian witness in our everyday occupations that we are called to become holy; and each person in the condition and in the state of life in which he finds himself: consecrated persons, married couples, unmarried baptized persons, parents, grandparents, catechists, educators and volunteers…. Every state of life leads to sanctity, if lived in communion with the Lord and in the service of one’s brethren.”
Each of us is called to be an epiphany by witnessing Jesus’ compassion and mercy in our daily lives.
Image Credit: ‘Adoration of the Magi’ by Andrea Mantegna (Getty Open Content Program)