Epiphany: A Post-Christmas Reflection

Rev. Jane Siebert

This year, I am looking at our traditional image of the nativity in a different light as war rages in the area. I recently had a personal epiphany on the Epiphany.

Wikipedia defines the Epiphany, celebrated on January 6, as “the manifestation of Christ to the Gentiles represented by the Magi.”* We also speak of the Epiphany as the church season when God’s light is revealed in the world. And in a more personal light, epiphany can be a moment of sudden revelation or insight. As I reflect on the typical nativity scene with Baby Jesus, Mary, Joseph, angels, shepherds, three wise men and usually some gentle animals, and a bright star, it is a peaceful setting in an unusual place.

The stable is often depicted full of light and warmth with a star mounted on the roof with Mary and Joseph cradling the Christ Child and an angel looking on. Around the stable are a disparate group of men in rich robes, carrying gifts, leading their camels, while the others are in sandals, rough tunics and often a headband, carrying a staff with sheep nearby. We bring the stories from Matthew and Luke together in this scene and often in our minds.

Last year I had the wonderful opportunity to visit the Holy Land with a group of Swedenborgians. We had a special time dividing up and spending the night with several Palestinian Christian families. They all lived in a town called Beit Sahour, which means “Field of the Shepherds”, right outside Bethlehem. Their long-standing tradition holds that this was where the angel came to the shepherds to tell them about the birth of Jesus and to ‘go and see’. They were Palestinian shepherds and became Christians and they often refer with pride to the fact they were some of the first Christians.

The Magi, or Kings, or Wisemen, as they are variously called, came from the East. Reading the story in Matthew, they had a long journey trying to follow the star and may have taken a couple of years to arrive at Jerusalem and ask Herod where the child called King of the Jews had been born. The importance of these men of the east as a part of this scene is sometimes overlooked as we concentrate on the gifts, but their presence is important in the birth of Jesus. Even Wikipedia calls these three “distinguished foreigners” serving a “critical role in Christian theology as their worship of Christ represents the physical manifestation of God to the Gentiles, thus fulfilling messianic prophecies”. They were foreigners, not Jewish, but from the east, probably Arabic, recognizing Jesus as the Messiah and falling down to worship him.

Taking this altogether and picking up on our image of the Nativity, we have Mary and Joseph as
Israelite Jews, the shepherds from the local Palestinian area, and the Magi from Arabic region,
or beyond. With all that is going on in the Middle East, my wish is we could hold this image of these three
groups of people with a variety of backgrounds and religious traditions, huddled together to find
and worship Jesus, the manifestation of God, peacefully, equally, and all bringing themselves
and their gifts for the good of all humankind.

* Wikipedia. 2022. “Epiphany (holiday).” Wikimedia Foundation. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Epiphany_(holiday)

Rev. Jane Siebert is an ordained Swedenborgian minister living in Wichita, Kansas, and recently finished serving as president of the Swedenborgian Church of America.

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