The shining


Sunrise over the sea.
Photo by Jess Loiterton on

The Meaning of Epiphany

The 12 days of Christmas are over, and you are probably wondering what to do with those 42 swans, 42 geese, 40 gold rings, 36 calling birds, 30 French hens 22 turtledoves and 12 partridges in 12 pear trees. At least the house will be quieter when the 12 drummers and 22 pipers have done playing and the 30 lords, 36 ladies and 40 maids have gone home.

This is now Epiphany. Epiphany is based on a Greek word meaning, aproximately, to shine upon. It is based on the Greek word phanos, meaning torch or lantern with the prefix epi. Epi is a prefix meaning “upon,” “on,” “over,” “near,” “at,” “before,” and “after,” and is used of Jesus in Matthew 9:6:

[Jesus said,] “But I want you to know that the Son of Man has authority on earth to forgive sins.” So he spoke to the man who could not walk. “Get up,” he said. “Take your mat and go home.”

Matthew 9:6 NIRV

“The Son of Man has authority on earth to forgive sins.” The word ‘on’ is the translation of epi. After saying this, Jesus acted, he raised the man on the mat. Epiphany, using the Greek that it is based on, is something real, tangible and physical. Unfortunately, the word epiphany in English is anything but tangible. ‘She had an epiphany,’ usually refers to having a realisation, a journey in the mind. The Christian Epiphany is not a journey in the mind. It is based on a real journey of about two years made by Eastern stargazers to find the new king that was born. It points to God, not as a philosophical construct, but as a real, human being, Jesus.

Because the Church’s use of Epiphany is so different to the meaning used in modern English that we need a different term. The English Bible uses ‘manifestation’ extensively, and we could point to its reality by using the term tangible manifestation, but although that is accurate it is not easily understood, verging into the language of philosophy and theology, the language of a minority. Abstract nouns lead to misunderstanding. So here’s my take: Epiphany means something real happened.

Your own Epiphany

Manifestation means epiphany, and epiphany mwans something real. Wherever we see the word manifestation we can substitute epiphany or something real.

We can have our own manifestations. We can have our own epiphanies. We can have our own something real. It comes from the Holy Spirit. Paul said in 1 Corinthians 12:7:

Now to each one the manifestation of the Spirit is given for the common good.



Now to each one the epiphany of the Spirit is given for the common good.
Now to each one something real of the Spirit is given for the common good.

Another simple way of putting it, as the NIRV puts it, is “The Holy Spirit is given to each of us in a special way. That is for the good of all.” We are given something real and special if we are open to the Holy Spirit. Humans are made in the image of God and through the Spirit can contain Jesus. Jesus, the word of God that created the universe is made small but real so that we, part of God’s creation can hold him.

But the season has a dark side. Although this light, this manifestation, is offered to all it is not always accepted by all people. The light shining on them is too bright and brings to light what they do not wish to be seen. So they not only reject Jesus but try to turn others against him.

Herod heard from the wise men from the east that a new King of the Jews was born. So he had all the boys born in that area between the star that led them on their journey appeared and that time. The rejection of Jesus leads to a tragedy. But we can choose to say yes to the invitation, yes to a deeper union with the Lord Jesus, and yes to an increase in the flow of His grace into our lives.

The feast of Epiphany is all about mercy and grace. The face of the Father’s mercy has been shown to rich and poor alike, to Gentile and Jew alike in these wise men and shepherds who visited God in the human form of a helpless child. But more than being about mercy Epiphany is about a particular grace, The grace of god shines into our lives so that we are enlightened and show the light of God in our lives and grow closer and closer to Jesus. And also that the light shines from us into the world, we become the light that leads others to that greater light, the true light of Jesus.

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