*** This is a rough transcript of today’s show ***
It is the 6th of January 2021. Welcome to the Christian History Almanac brought to you by 1517 at 1517.org; I’m Dan van Voorhis.
The pod is like a vast classroom where I can’t see your eyes.
Sometimes perhaps I give you too much, sometimes too little. Feel free to email me with questions that might be helpful for other listeners too…
In this same vein, some of you might be more than familiar with the festival days, while many others may have heard the words but don’t go to churches that observe the feasts on the calendar.
So today is one of the biggest feasts of the year and a feast that predates Christmas despite also marking the official “end” of the Christmas season. Today is the feast of the Epiphany… or Theophany… or Three Kings depending on what church you may be in. These words and themes work and are used to highlight something that is being celebrated today.
Let’s start with the word itself- “Epiphany.” Perhaps you know this word in its workaday sense, such as “last night I had an epiphany and will no longer speak ill of Peruvian cuisine” or “X has been an epiphany on defense.” It’s a wow moment that makes you change your mind. But technically, an epiphany is something revealed to you from “up above” (“epi” in Greek), and thus we may speak more of a “divine revelation.” And the “divine revelation” is celebrated on the Feast of the Epiphany is the “revelation” of Jesus to the Wise Men.
This represents Jesus coming to and being revealed to the gentiles- as seen in his visitors from the East. We’ve talked about these “Christmas Wizards” on this show before. In predominantly Roman Catholic countries, you may see the initials “KMB” posted on doorways and throughout the church during Epiphany (and its season lasts until Ash Wednesday). The KMB stand for Kaspar, Melchior, and Balthasar- the traditional names of the Magi.
In the Eastern Orthodox church, you may hear today’s feast is referred to as the feast of the “Theophany.” The same ending comes from “phainein” to reveal. But it’s not just any “revelation from above (or “epi”) but rather the revelation of “Theos” himself- the revelation of God. And in the Eastern churches that focus on the revelation of God himself, it is not just the revelation of Jesus to the gentiles but the revelation of Jesus as the God of the universe. So, in these churches, the Magi get their props, but also the Baptism of Jesus and his first miracle at Cana are remembered. Why these two things?
The Baptism of Jesus is necessary for a few reasons- but what happens when he is baptized? The spirit descends like a dove, and the Father says, “this is my son in whom I am well pleased.” If there were any doubts, God attested to who Jesus is. And the miracle at Cana is Jesus’ self-revelation as God who can perform miracles.
And the day marks the end of the Christmas season. In some countries, children go door to door receiving small gifts- perhaps the famous “three Kings cakes” found in so many cultures (remember Revolutionary France renaming them “Liberty Cakes” cuz, Kings are bad?) As this season abuts Lent, Mardi Gras is celebrated by some, and if you’ve been to Louisiana during this season, you likely saw “King Cakes” being sold. Even where Christianity has only remained as a faint echo from the past, the “Three Kings Cakes” will be consumed by folks possibly not aware that they celebrate the Epiphany- or revelation of Jesus as God- which also counts as a Theophany.
The last word for today comes from Matthew 2 and the story of the Magi:
9 After they had heard the king, they went on their way, and the star they had seen when it rose went ahead of them until it stopped over the place where the child was. 10 When they saw the star, they were overjoyed. 11 On coming to the house, they saw the child with his mother Mary, and they bowed down and worshiped him. Then they opened their treasures and presented him with gifts of gold, frankincense and myrrh. 12 And having been warned in a dream not to go back to Herod, they returned to their country by another route.
This has been the Christian History Almanac for the 6th of January 2021 brought to you by 1517 at 1517.org.
The show is produced by a man whose favorite K/Caspers include the Magus, the Friendly Ghost, Dave of the 70s Raiders, and Caspar David Friedrich, the German Romantic painter. He is Christopher Gillespie
The show is written and read by a man who remembers the now-defunct mascot of the New Orleans Pelicans: the King Cake Baby. I’m Dan van Voorhis
You can catch us here every day- and remember that the rumors of grace, forgiveness and the redemption of all things are true…. Everything is going to be ok.