The Feast of Epiphany means manifestation or revelation. It is the oldest of the Christmas Feasts and is still celebrated on January 6th as the major feast of the season in Eastern Churches. The feast probably originated in those churches in the Middle East strongly influenced by the Gospel of John, who proclaims of Jesus Christ: And the Word became flesh, and made his dwelling with us, and we saw his glory, the glory of the Fathers Son, full of grace and Truth. (JN1:14) And as the True Light which enlightens everyone, Jesus came not only that we might see his glory but also that we might share in it. From His fullness we have all received, grace for grace.
The feast from the beginning has always been associated with the Baptism of Our Lord. Later in the Western church it became associated with the Manifestation of Christ to the Gentiles and the Magi became the central figures (apart from Our Lord) in the days festivities. But whether the story is related to the Baptism or to the manifestation before the Three Kings, there is a heavy emphasis on the Trinity. In the Baptism FATHER, SON, and DOVE; in the Magi Story we have the three kings, the three gifts. This all points to Trinity in Manifestation and also revealed in the individual as the Higher self in the qualities of WILL, LOVE, ACTIVITY.
All during advent we prepared for His Coming, then at Christmas we celebrated His arrival. Now at Epiphany we join the Wise Men of all ages who come to worship Him and offer their best gifts.
You will remember that all the festivals of the Church are not only commemorations of historical significance that happened in the Life of our Lord Jesus Christ two thousand years ago. No, these festivals are also symbolic of great events which occur in the Life of each one of us as we tread the Path of Christ. At Advent we await with anticipation His coming within our Soul at Christmas we rejoice at His birth once again in our own heart.
Now at Epiphany, twelve days after the festival, we are intended to translate all of that joy into action! Up until now all the preparation and all the celebration has been for the most part interior. Now the time has come for the Christ to become MANIFEST to the World. For that is the meaning of the word epiphany: to show forth to shine forth to manifest.
And now we look to the Magi within to discover what this great symbol of the Christ manifestation is. The three wise men represent the dedicated Body, Soul and Spirit. The Myrrh represents the bitterness and pain and sorrow of the lower nature within us before it has died out to self and selfishness. The root cause of all of our troubles is selfishness, the belief that we are separate from our fellows. That we are somehow unique or different. That we are either better than those around us, which is the sin of Pride; or that we are somehow not as good as others or less than, which is the sin of Pride in reverse. Either way it is self-absorption or self-obsession. So Myrrh speaks of the death of the lower personality, the petty small self. St. Paul says we must die to self that Christ may live within us.
The Frankincense is the symbol of the transmutation of our lower self into the Higher Self, the Christ Nature. The incense speaks of the sweetness of the Soul lifted in aspiration to the Christ within. And finally the Gold is that precious part of each person, the True Self which we are striving to manifest or show forth. It is the spark of Divinity which lies hidden deep within the heart of each person. The Gospel of St. John says it is the true Light that lights every person coming into the World.
When that experience of the transmutation of the lower self into the Higher Self takes place, a change happens in the life of the Christian Initiate. Notice our Gospel this morning says, And being warned of God in a dream not to return to Herod they departed by another way. Your Life is changed and you cannot return to the old way. The old way no longer works. Old habits of the body or emotions or of thinking have failed. One has found a new and Living Way!
There is an ancient saying: When you have found the beginning of the WAY, the Star of your soul will show its Light. The means of following the Star and finding the way I have just outlined may be implemented through prayer, meditation and the practice of good works. But these practices, as good and laudable as they are, only lead to the discovery of that Star. We need not look for the Light outside, we need not enkindle the Light, It already exists. It is the nature of light to shine. You do not make it shine, you simply let it shine! Let your Light so shine before men that they may see your good works and glorify their Father which is in Heaven.
One of the founding Bishops of the Liberal Catholic Church, C.W. Leadbeater, said, We who love the Star should ourselves be as stars to help to illumine the world in which we live, each according to his or her capacity to shine and to show forth in purity, in gentleness and in steadfastness the Light that is within us.
The Right Reverend William S.H. Downey
Regionary Bishop for the USA
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