I like etymology; I always have. Naturally I went to my etymology dictionary this morning to see that constructs give us this lovely word ‘epiphany.’ It comes from the late Greek epiphanes, which means “manifest, conspicuous,” It’s a compound word. The front half is epi, which means “on, to” as in epitaph, and epitome and epidural, and its back half is, phainein, which means “to show,” as in phantom, and fantasy and fantastic. It’s the display unto of us something fantastic and supernatural. Something that changes everything.
It’s interesting to me that Epiphany with a big E has little to do with earthly presents like gold, frankinsence and myrrh. Its true meaning is lost in our contemplations of Eastern kings on camels who wore cool hats and knew how to outsmart Herod. Epiphany with a big E was and is about something more, I think. Something fantastical. Something too big for earthly minds.
Think about it a moment. What happened to Mary and Joseph and Jesus after the “presents” from the Wise Men were opened, and these new parents figuratively began their New Year? We don’t have to guess, actually. We can read it in the gospel of Matthew:
Matthew 2:11-15: “On coming to the house, they saw the child with his mother Mary, and they bowed down and worshiped him. Then they opened their treasures and presented him with gifts of gold, frankincense and myrrh. And having been warned in a dream not to go back to Herod, they returned to their country by another route. When they had gone, an angel of the Lord appeared to Joseph in a dream. “Get up,” he said, “take the child and his mother and escape to Egypt. Stay there until I tell you, for Herod is going to search for the child to kill him.” So he got up, took the child and his mother during the night and left for Egypt.”
After the Wise Men left, things got very complicated for this little family. Instead of things getting better they got worse. They had to trust God for their future more than ever. This was their Epiphany. What do you think they learned about God in the glow of this bright and fantastic moment?
Some things that come to mind:
Have you ever found yourself in a different place than you expected to be at the start of a new year?
I wonder if sometimes when things seem really dark, as it might have seemed to Joseph and Mary as they fled in the night to protect their infant son, that things are actually quite bright and we find ourselves shielding our eyes. When God is present in our dark times, He is Epiphany; a manifestation of Himself in our dark places. Brightness that causes us to shield our eyes can fool us into thinking all is dark. It’s actually the opposite.
And that’s my light bulb moment for day, on this sixth of January.