“January 6 – A Day of Epiphany”

“January 6 – A Day of Epiphany”

Certain dates on our calendar are memorable because of something significant that happened on that day in history, for example July 4th, November 11th, December 7th and of course December 25th. But what is significant about January 6th?

On the Christian Church calendar, it is the Day of Epiphany when the Christ child is presented to the Gentiles as represented by the visit of the Magi (Matthew 2:1–12).

It is also the beginning of the “season of epiphany” in which we celebrate God presenting His one and only Son Jesus to the world; first with the visit of the wise men from the East, to the Babe in Bethlehem, then the baptism of Jesus in the river Jordan and the voice from heaven declaring Him “my Son, whom I love” (Mt. 3:13-17) and ending in the transfiguration of Jesus on the mountain where again the voice from above declares “this is my Son, whom I love. Listen to Him” (Mark 9:2-7). This season covers a period of six weeks on our church calendar and takes us up to the “season of Lent” and the preparation for Easter.

Allow me to focus on January 6th and what it represents in the life of the church. Who are these magi and what motivated them to travel to Bethlehem bearing gifts for a king? As best as we can tell from ancient historical evidence, these magi came from the ancient Parthian empire (old Persia). Just east of the Roman empire, the border appears to have been along the Euphrates River (currently in the country of Iraq). The Parthian religion was called “Aura Mazda,” and their priests were called “Magi”. They were known for both their magic and their study of the stars, astrology.

Historians claim that magi in that culture were very significant individuals. They would not have traveled by themselves, especially into a neighboring hostile empire. They probably had quite a caravan of people (servants and soldiers) carrying food and clothing and of course gifts of gold, frankincense, and myrrh. Remember when Herod heard about their coming, “he was greatly disturbed” (Mt. 2:3).

Three wise men on camels would not be very frightening, but a large entourage of people especially accompanied by soldiers would be. Also keep in mind that Matthew does not tell us how many Magi came to Bethlehem. We just assume three because of the three gifts.

Though the western church has designated January 6 as the day of their arrival, we do not know exactly when they arrived. Again, according to the Bible, they came to “the house” (Mt. 2:11) in Bethlehem and when they told Herod about the star, Herod figured out that at least two years had transpired (Mt. 2:16).

Now how did they know about this birth of a king in the first place? Remember these were religious men who studied both ancient writings and celestial stars. Ancient Jews had been taken captive into their country years, even centuries before (remember Daniel). Therefore, these magi would have had access to the Hebrew writings. They knew about the one who was to be born King of the Jews (Micah 5:2).

Finally, why the gifts of gold, frankincense, and myrrh? To answer this, I turn to Dr. J. Vernon McGee who wrote, “Gold speaks of His birth. He is born a king. Frankincense speaks of the fragrance of His life. Myrrh speaks of His death. All of this is indicated in the gifts that were brought to Him as His first coming.” *

The magi finally understood who God was and that He cared for them. Though they brought gifts, God gave them the greatest gift of all – a Savior, who is Christ the Lord.

*Dr. J. Vernon McGee. Thru the Bible. Nelson Publishing. 1983, vol. IV, p.16.

By Rev. Rich Pollock, Worship Committee Chair