“The sense of Epiphany came before the dawn in the tremulous clanging of the church bell of Blida. So gentle at first that it might almost have been the tinkling of the wise men’s camels – a growing into a crescendo of joy as will that ‘manifestation’ come to be at a better daybreak.'” 6 January 1911
“Lord! grant some light to us, that we
May with them find the way to Thee.”
Epiphany. The 12th Day of Christmas. The day that both ends the Christmas Season and fulfills it by celebrating the revelation of the Christ to all people.
The word “epiphany” literally means “revelation” or “sudden unveiling” or “manifestation.” Thus we associate it with light or illumination. The church has appropriated the word, Epiphany, to commemorate a light-led event in the life of Christ: the coming of the wise men, guided by a star (light!) to Bethlehem to pay homage to the Infant-King.
It was their response to this diminutive deity – worship and giving – that has added yet another layer to the texture of this shimmering event. Giving. And so, today, we celebrate Epiphany with light and with gifts. Indeed, in some Christian traditions, Epiphany is the day of gift-giving inspired by the wise men of old who journeyed to find the promised Christ-child and, finding Him, knelt down in worship expressing their adoration in lavish gifts.
How far have we moved from the original intent: to celebrate the joy-filled union of worship and gift-giving as exemplified by the ancient magi? Open boxes, empty bags and colorful tissue paper under our Christmas tree are the remains of a month absorbed in gift giving and getting: what to buy for whom? How much to spend? (too much, too little?). . . wrapping and boxing and mailing. . . wondering – was it the right gift? were they disappointed?. . . And then the post-Christmas hassle of returns and exchanges – right size, correct color. . . . Somewhere, in the countdown to Christmas, have we missed the point?
I have a gold box (Godiva chocolates now history!) within which I store tiny treasures. I finger objects that would mystify the most astute detective: a doll shoe. . . a small wheel on a castor. . . a matchbox car… an over-size imitation of a Red Cross jack-knife. . . marble. . . a black plastic watch band with a painted silver disc upon which a speck of diamond dust has been glued (“diamond encrusted wristwatch” lured the cereal box advertisement). . . and a host of other unidentifiable objects which, without context, have little or no value. But each is a treasure to me. Each has a story; each exacted personal cost. The small “givers” are grown-ups now and would probably chuckle at the memory (if even recalled) and more likely at the sentimental mother who cherishes their priceless tributes of love.
Back to Epiphany. Back to God. Back to the Priceless Gift this day commemorates: The Light to all Nations. What can you give Someone who has everything? Someone who has given everything? The only gift that no one else can give: The gift of oneself. “Lord! grant some light to us, that we may with them find the way to Thee.”
“What can I give Him,
Poor as I am?
If I were a shepherd
I would bring a lamb,
If I were a wise man
I would do my part, –
Yet what I can I give Him,
Give my heart.”
Painting: From scrapbook “A Week in a Strong City”