Today we celebrate Epiphany. Most westerns know Epiphany to be a celebration of the Wise men coming to honor Jesus for the first time. But this is not what Epiphany originally celebrated. The Epiphany tradition originates out of the Eastern Orthodox traditions and celebrates not the wise men but rather Christ’s baptism and it was a feast similar to how we celebrate Christmas. But as the tradition made its way into Western European culture it was a way for us to celebrate and honor the journey of the wise men to honor Jesus’ birth.
But what do we really know about the wise men? Matthew gives us the only real information on them. We know that they brought three gifts: gold, frankincense, and myrrh. We know that they came from the East. St. Bede the Venerable, who lived and worked as a Catholic monk in England in late 600 to the early 700 AD, related that there were only three wise men and that they represented all the known races at this time: Asian, African, and European. Bede was also the one responsible for giving these three wise men their names.
In clarifying the identities of these wise men, or sages, he was clarifying the purpose or intent of Jesus’ life for Christians. He was reinforcing that God had always intended for the message of Christ to be for all peoples in the world gentile and Jew alike. There was a universal message in this story. In reality, sources recently translated from the Vatican library, suggests that the wise men came from the Far East, perhaps as far as China. They were probably astrologers and that there were three gifts but at least twelve or more individuals. The traditions of this book suggest that they came from the line of Seth and that they were later converted to Christianity by the Apostle Thomas. Even if we follow this translation of the wise men, the message still stands that Christ came to this world for all peoples.
We are all welcome at the cradle. We are all welcome in the house of God. The wise men in all traditions saw a star and followed it to Bethlehem where they discovered the Christ child. They were beckoned to from the heavens and they journeyed in the act of discovering something amazing. In the child, they found a universal message of hope, peace, and care for all peoples. A message that no matter their background: Pagan or Jew all people stood on equal ground, all people were being offered a new life in this child. This is the true message of Epiphany.
Epiphany represents light that brings to reality the uniting power of God’s love for all peoples. I have always seen the story of the wise men to be quite inspiring. It is a reminder to all of us of several different things. First it reminds us of God’s love for all peoples and not just the chosen people. Second it is a call for all people to embark on their journeys to find Christ. The light of Epiphany shines forth to all people everywhere and in every time. The light of Epiphany calls out to each of us throughout the year urging us to continue our search for Christ in our world, communities, lives, and in our hearts.
We may not be taking a literal journey to search for a child. But God has sent us a sign beckoning to us to drop our old ways of life and to enter onto a journey that ends at the feet of our Savior. We are called to search for the child no matter what our walks of life are. Many believe the wise men to be astrologers from the lands of Persia, Africa, and China. We are called to come to the comfort, compassion, and love of God united together as one people. God makes no distinctions between us. It doesn’t matter if we have been raised Catholic, Jewish, Islamic, Christian, or with nothing at all. The call still goes out and all are welcome.
All people are being offered new life in Jesus. All people are being encouraged to place aside everything they have held to be true to journey in faith and discover a new life. The wise men came to Christ as Gentiles found the babe, experienced something wonderful and years later discovered a new faith through the apostle Thomas. We too come before Christ as Gentiles, but not in the traditional understanding of that word. We come to Christ as individuals distracted, lost, yearning for something new and different, something more out of life. Christ is the only one to provide this for us. Christ is the only one offering up to each one of us new life. So don’t be afraid of your backgrounds, your inhibitions, your challenges for Christ accepts and welcomes all of us with open arms. There is a place for everyone at the side of Jesus.
So as we begin another year, I am sure that all of us have made our new year’s resolutions. But perhaps our greatest challenge, the most important resolution shouldn’t have to do with weight loss, work, savings, but rather should be a challenge to seek Christ as those wise men did and journey with Christ to discover a new and more satisfying way of life. Our challenge is to welcome Christ’s offer of new life and to live our lives by his teachings, his compassion, his love, his promise for tomorrow. Our scriptures from Isaiah are words calling for the Savior, “Arise, shine; for your light has come, and the glory of the Lord has risen upon you”. They also still call to us over the centuries telling us to arise and see the light of our Lord calling to us throughout time, calling us to new life. Do you hear the call? Will accept Christ’s gift of new life?
 Isaiah 60: 1, NRSV.
(based on Isaiah 60: 1-6 and Matthew 2: 1-12)