EpiphanyToday is Epiphany, one of those holidays that I think should be a much bigger deal than it usually is. Then again, as I often use this blog to say, I am in favor of holidays in general and think that every holiday should be a really, really big deal. However, I think that Epiphany in particular is one of the most underrated holidays in the entire year. We should celebrate Epiphany not only by observing it in church, but also by baking Epiphany cookies, going Epiphany caroling, posting Epiphany greetings on our facebook pages, and not being in school yet. This year, Epiphany conveniently falls on a Sunday, but when it doesn’t, we should have Epiphany Day church services anyway. And it goes without saying that we should write blog posts about how much we like Epiphany.

Google translate says that this is "Epiphany" in Greek. Greek is awesome; it saddens me that I don't know it.

Google translate says that this is “Epiphany” in Greek. Greek is awesome; it saddens me that I don’t know it.

I like Epiphany a lot. I’m not making comparisons here; I’m not necessarily saying that I like it any more than any other holiday. But it is cool. The word Epiphany comes from a Greek word meaning manifestation, which is a fancy word for an event that shows something. (Therefore, the word epiphany has also entered the English language as a word that refers to a sudden realization.) In terms of the holiday, the thing being shown is the incarnation of Jesus, and the event showing it is the famous journey of the wise men.

Here’s a fun fact that is fairly well known, but still worth saying: We don’t actually know how many of them there were. Matthew 2:1 just says “wise men from the east”, it doesn’t specify a number. Apparently, the reason we tend to assume that there were three was that they brought three gifts: gold, frankincense, and myrrh. Also, it is worth noting that “wise men”, “magi” and “kings” are not synonymous. As far as I know, there’s no reason to believe that the wise men were royalty. They were probably rich, since they had gold and frankincense and myrrh to bring as gifts to Jesus, but that doesn’t mean they were kings. In fact, the title of the song “We Three Kings of Orient Are” is wrong on three counts, because there also is no reason to believe that the wise men were from the orient. I’ve heard that they were probably from Persia, although I don’t know how certain that is. The Bible also makes no mention of rubber cigars, but I’m inclined to believe that part of the song.

wise menFor me, the really interesting part about the wise men is the fact that they brought myrrh. I bring this up partly because it was mentioned in the sermon in church today, but I’ve heard it a number of times before and have always thought it was interesting. Once upon a time, I didn’t know what frankincense and myrrh were, so I just linked them together in my head with gold because I knew what gold was. As I have since learned, frankincense is a type of incense; you set it on fire and it smells good and acts as a metaphor for prayer rising to heaven. Myrrh is a spice which was used in burial. Those are some odd gifts to give a baby. I mean, the gold could obviously be set aside for his college fund, but I’m sure Mary and Joseph didn’t want to encourage Baby Jesus to play with fire or to take up embalming as a hobby. The reason that the myrrh is interesting in this context is that it foreshadows and points out the fact that Jesus’ death and Jesus’ birth were linked; they were part of the same mission. The other two times that myrrh is mentioned in the New Testament both have to do with the crucifixion: Jesus is offered wine mixed with myrrh to drink while he is on the cross (Mark 15:23) and he is buried with myrrh. (John 19:39) I’m not claiming that there are great theological hidden meanings in the motif of myrrh; Jesus’ crucifixion is equally significant regardless of what gifts he was given as a baby, but I still think it’s kind of interesting.

Just to round out my Epiphany Day blog post and to make sure that there’s something of substance in it, here is a link to one of my favorite Epiphany hymns, and here is the tune. And one more thing: you now have my official permission to take down your Christmas decorations if that’s really what you want to do. My own Christmas tree will stay where it is for a few more weeks, but at this point, that’s a matter of personal preference rather than an expression of the fact that it’s still Christmas. Because it actually isn’t Christmas anymore.