The Feast of the Epiphany of Our Lord (6 January) serves as a hinge between the Christmas and Epiphany seasons. Focusing as it does on the Visit of the Magi, the Feast is in some respects a thirteenth day of Christmas, yet it also begins a new season of the Church Year with its own nuances and emphases on the manifestation of the one true God in the Flesh and Blood of the incarnate Son, Christ Jesus, conceived and born of St. Mary.
Especially because of its focus on the Visit of the Magi (St. Matthew 2:1–12), the Feast of the Epiphany has often been described as a “Christmas of the Gentiles.” And that featured story does indeed anticipate the mission to the Gentiles at the conclusion of the Gospels (St. Matt 28:18–20; St. Mark 16:15–16; and St. Luke 24:46–47). The appointed Old Testament (Isaiah 60:1–6) and Epistle (Ephesians 3:1–12) further substantiate this mission emphasis, so beautifully expressed in the Nunc Dimittis: “For mine eyes have seen Thy salvation, which Thou hast prepared before the face of all people, a Light to lighten the Gentiles, and the glory of Thy people Israel” (LSB 199).
With that emphasis in mind, the Epiphany of Our Lord embraces the manifestation of God in human flesh, not only in the person of Christ Jesus but also in the ongoing mission and ministry of His Gospel. By the preaching of repentance for the forgiveness of sins in His Name, those who were far off and far removed from God are called and brought near to God in Christ Jesus, that they might know Him and love Him and worship Him by faith. The gifts of the Magi are the confession of the Gentiles that the little Lord Jesus, “the Babe, the Son of Mary” (LSB 370), “the Child with His Mother” (St. Matthew 2:11), is King and God and Sacrifice. The gold confesses that He is King, the frankincense that He is God, and the myrrh that He is to be sacrificed, put to death, and buried for the sins of the whole world. This faithful and right worship of the incarnate Lord by the people of all nations is explicit in the Epiphany Gradual of the three-year lectionary:
“Praise the Lord, all nations! Extol Him, all peoples! For great is His steadfast love toward us, and the faithfulness of the Lord endures forever. Ascribe to the Lord the glory due His Name; bring an offering, and come into His courts!” (Ps. 117:1–2a; 96:8)
Accordingly, the Season of Epiphany is an ideal time to focus on the Office of the Holy Ministry and on the Church’s collective work of evangelism, outreach, and world missions, as the glory of God in Christ Jesus is revealed to the nations in the preaching and administration of His Gospel. The festivals occurring throughout the course of this season also serve and support this emphasis. The Confession of St. Peter (18 January), the Conversion of St. Paul (25 January), the festivals of St. Timothy (24 January) and St. Titus (26 January), and the festival of St. Matthias the Apostle (24 February), all give attention to the ongoing mission and ministry of the incarnate Son of God in the life of His Church following His Ascension into heaven, even to the close of the age. The point at hand is especially clear in the Gradual for the Conversion of St. Paul and St. Matthias:
“When He ascended on high He led a host of captives, and He gave gifts to men. He gave the Apostles, the Prophets, the Evangelists, the Pastors and Teachers, for building up the Body of Christ. So then you are no longer strangers and aliens, but members of the Household of God” (Eph. 4:8b, 11, 12b; 2:19a, c).
Christ be praised that, according to His tender mercies and steadfast loving-kindness, He causes the Light of the Revelation of the Glory of God to be manifest in the peaching and administration of His Holy Gospel, even though it is delivered to His Church through earthen vessels like us!