In the ancient eastern lands, when a king would come to visit one of his cities, they would be welcomed with all due honor and pomp. There would be much feasting and revelry. Special gifts and privileges would be granted to certain individuals. It was an expensive and lavish event that was entirely paid for by the king himself by his own decree. These festive visitations became to be known as "theophanies" or "epiphanies" -- "an appearance of a god." It was as if a divine being had come to earth himself.
In our dear Lord Jesus, we find the true Epiphany. The One True God appears to us in our flesh. Our King Jesus has come to earth, and laviously bestowed upon us great gifts of forgiveness, life, and salvation. And we enjoy those gifts, through our feasting and joyful celebration of our dear Lord's arrival.
This reality is portrayed for us in the Gospel reading for the day, which is the visitation of the Magi from the East. The Magi arrive rejoicing, and bestow gifts of gold, frankincense, and myrrh upon our dear Lord Jesus, and they bend the knee before Him in worship and adoration. Such is our example, this is why historically, during the Gospel reading, the whole congregation genuflects at the words "and they fell down and worshipped Him."
In this Feast is the zenith of the Christmas cycle. From here on our eyes will slowly be focused toward the cross and Easter. This is portrayed in the historic practice of announcing the dates of the movable feasts on this day after the Gospel reading by the Celebrant. Following is an example:
Celebrant: Dearly beloved brethren, ye shall know that as we have rejoiced in the Birth of our Lord Jesus Christ, so there is announced to thee by the mercy of God the joyous observance of the Resurrection of same our Lord and Savior: _____ shall be Septuagesima Sunday; _____ shall be Ash Wednesday, the beginning the most holy season of Lent; On _____ we shall celebrate with great rejoicing the holy Easter Festival, the Resurrection of our Lord Jesus Christ; _____: the Feast of the Ascension of our Lord Jesus Christ; _____: the Feast of Whitsunday; _____: the Feast of the Holy Trinity; _____ shall be the First Sunday in the Advent of Our Lord Jesus Christ; to Whom be honor and glory, world without end. Amen.
The Feast of the Epiphany of Our Lord begins this journey to Easter by filling us with a theme of light. This is portrayed in the star that led the Magi from the East. The light comes from the East, the place of the dawn, and the seat of God's revelation. This is why the altar is spoken of as residing in the East, even if it isn't oriented that way, the altar is the liturgical East; it is the place where God sheds His light of grace upon us.
The star which rises from the East, leads the Maji to Judea. According to some ancient Fathers, this star was the Holy Ghost appearing as a star, in the same way that He revealed Himself as a dove. Other ancient Fathers, consider this star an angel of the Lord, sent specifically to the Magi to lead them to our Savior. Still others consider it an actual star specifically created to announce the birth of God in the flesh.
Whatever this star was, it was the light that led Gentiles, as by means, to the Savior. This is why Epiphany has always had an evangelical nature. The texts for this season, call all peoples out of darkness, into the Saving Light. Jesus reveals Himself, or manifests, or enlightens Himself, to the whole world, at the Temple as a boy, in the waters of His Baptism, at the wedding at Cana--His first miracle--through the healing of the leper and the Centurion's servant, through the calming of the wind and the waves, and as the eternal judge between wheat and tare on the Last Day, Jesus reveals that He is the God who dwells in man's flesh. And at His Transfiguration, He fully manifests that He is the true Light of the World as His clothes shine like no fuller* on earth could launder.
Then having learned that Jesus is God in the flesh, we are called to work in His vineyard, that is called into the Church. In the Church we hear the Word of God planted into our ears, as the Sower, through the voice of His Minister, sows the seed, and by that seed He heals us of our blindness, and opens our eyes, so that we are no longer blind and living in darkness, but now see clearly the Light of our salvation.
Having gained the sight of salvation, we are led through the valley of temptation, and through the onslaught of the powers of sin, death, and the devil, all the way to the cross, where the Light, becomes for us, Life.
Today our King comes to us, showers His gifts of forgiveness, life and salvation upon us abundantly, and reveals to us and all the world, that He is the one True Lord and Savior of all the world. So rejoice! Bend the knee! Worship and adore your Savior King.
Foretold by ancient seers,
By God the Father given,
In human form appears.
No sphere his light confining,
No star so brightly shining
As he, our Morning Star.
*A "fuller" is a launderer.
Deacon Dulas is ordained into the pastorate and member of the Evangelical Lutheran Diocese of North America (eldona.org). In his own words, "My call is to serve as deacon and missionary-at-large to MN and WI at Good Shepherd Lutheran Church, Tony, WI. We are starting a mission here in Mayer, MN, and the surrounding area called St. Matthew Ev. Luth. Mission."