Such a wonderful word! It means manifestation. It is the idea of something made known. What that presupposes is ourselves as knowers. And no knowers without the idea of things that can be known. (All rather ToKish, I must confess!) But it is true and belongs to the meaning of a school as a place of learning about things which can be known. Not that we can know everything. It is really about the quest for wisdom; to know even as we are known in the infinite love and wisdom of God. This is far more than an assemblage of facts and figures, of information and technical know-how. It belongs to a deeper understanding of our humanity than what reduces us to bots or cogs in the machine of technocratic society; in short, things to be manipulated and used, even diminished and destroyed.
Epiphany in the Christian understanding marks at once the end or completion of Christmas and the beginning of the unfolding of its wonder. With the coming in of the Magi-Kings of Anatolia, the proverbial wise ones, the Christmas scene at Bethlehem is complete. Epiphany, however, signals a new emphasis, the making known of the Christmas mystery for all people, omni populo. It is something universal. God cannot be contained to a particular culture and time. We are opened out to the deeper mysteries that belong to our humanity in its desire to know. The love of learning and the love of God are intimately connected.
Once again, as with Advent, the dominant image of the understanding is that of light, a light which now shines out from within the world. Not only is Christ in this way of thinking, “the life” which is “the light of the world”, but he is “the true light, which lighteth every one that cometh into the world”. The light and the wisdom of God is manifest in the world, even in and through the experiences of our own lives. It is not about collapsing God into the world but about our being drawn more and more fully into the mystery of God, first and foremost, and into the mystery of ourselves as knowers and lovers of knowledge.
Thus, Epiphany illustrates wonderfully the journey of understanding. It is not just the journey of the Magi-Kings to Bethlehem in all their exotic qualities which has excited the imagination of poets and artists over the centuries. How many? Who are they? Where did they come from? Such things become part of the work of holy imagination which is about our thinking upon what is shown. This appears, too, in the Huron Carol which imaginatively places the Epiphany story in the context of the indigenous culture of the Wendat (or Huron) culture here in Canada. Thus, it belongs to another journey, a journey of reflection that leads away from Bethlehem to engage the wider world of our humanity. The journey has to do with how we are transformed by what we see and know, by what we learn and seek to know more deeply. For what we seek as knowers is always something greater than ourselves.
They came and “fell down and worshipped” the child Christ, “present[ing] unto him gifts; gold, frankincense, and myrrh”. These are “sacred gifts of mystic meaning, as one of the hymns puts it, gifts that belong to the greater gift of God himself. They are gifts which teach us something of what God makes known about himself and about human redemption. The Child is King, and God, and Sacrifice. Such is the radical meaning of the Word made flesh.
The Magi-Kings then leave Bethlehem, “depart[ing] into their own country another way”, changed in some sense by what they have seen. Like the Shepherds, they have beheld the wonder of “this thing which has come to pass”, literally, “this saying that has happened”; in other words, the Word made flesh. God with us seeks to illuminate the meaning of our lives through the story of Christ in his engagement with our humanity. The things of God are written out in the body of Christ and in the story of his life. It is about who he is and who he is for us and thus about who we are in the light of God. Such is the journey of learning in our seeking to know, just like the Magi-Kings. Embrace the journey, the journey of learning.
(Rev’d) David Curry
Chaplain, Head of English & ToK teacherChair of the Department of Religion and Philosophy