Three people from Mennonite Mission Network's Training and Resources department, reflect on Epiphany. Also read: In 2023, the star still shines bright, written by Joani Miller, director of Training and Resources, and God’s light changes us,
written by Ann Jacobs, a specialist in urban and African American ministries.
Epiphany, celebrated on Jan. 6, is a day of revelation. On Epiphany, the church remembers the mystery of its origin — the coming together of Jewish and gentile disciples of Jesus in one body (Ephesians 3:5-6).
the significance of Epiphany is synonymous with mission, for mission is fundamentally about the creation of communion in Christ across cultures. Moreover, Matthew 2:1-12 — the classic Epiphany text — recounts the journey of gentile Magi, or "wise men from the East," to Judea (v. 1). In that sense, too, Epiphany is about mission, which often, though not exclusively, involves the crossing of considerable physical distances. What, then, might Epiphany teach us about mission? The Matthew text will be our guide.
First, Epiphany shows that the life or
power of mission is not of earthly, but of heavenly, origin.
The Magi came to Judea in response to a celestial event — the sudden appearance of a "star at its rising" (vv. 2, 9 NRSV). While the text does not say why gentile astrologers associated this sign with the birth of a Jewish king, its appearance precipitated their arrival — "For we have seen his star … and have come to worship Him" (v. 2, NKJV).
Second, Epiphany reveals the
purpose of mission.
The Magi left their homes in order to "pay him homage," a phrase repeated three times in the story (vv. 2, 8, 11 NRSV). Even though one of these occurrences is a counterfeit claim in the mouth of King Herod toward the child king, the Magi's worship is an appropriate and oft-repeated response to Jesus in Matthew's Gospel. When the devil offered Jesus "the kingdoms of the world and their splendor" in exchange for worship, Jesus retorted, "Worship the Lord your God, and serve only him" (Matthew 4:8-11 NRSV). Yet, without objection, Jesus received his disciples' worship when he stilled the storm (Matthew 14:32-33) and commissioned them, after having risen from the dead (28:9, 16-20). Thus, whether in the more human connotations of "homage" or divine connotations of "worship," Epiphany points to the goal of mission: the glorification of God — "Father, Son, and Holy Spirit" — by "disciples of all nations" (28:19).
Third, Epiphany illumines the way or
pattern of mission.
Mission means "sending," and the Magi are sent to Judea, first by the heavenly vision, and then, by Herod, to Bethlehem (Matthew 2:8). Their coming to Bethlehem defied their expectations, for the Magi supposed that they would find the "King of the Jews" in Jerusalem, the capital city of the Jewish people (vv. 1-2). Instead, they finally find Jesus in Bethlehem, in "the house" and "with Mary his mother" (v. 11 NRSV). This reorientation of the Magi — the "sent ones" in the story — anticipates that of Christian missionaries who found that they had not so much brought Jesus to foreign lands as encountered him there, already living in the homes and among the people — the "Marys" and "Josephs" to whom they came. Epiphany thus commends a way of mission that leads to Christ (vv. 10-11):
Seek the life of God among others
"when they saw that the star had stopped ... they saw the child with Mary his mother"
- Receive hospitality
"on entering the house"
- Share what is yours to share
"they offered him gifts"
On the other hand, just as the Magi arrived in Bethlehem from a sense of divine calling and the summons of imperial forces, from the beauty of the star and the terror of the king, so missionaries have sometimes thought that the aims of God and king are the same — to the death of innocent people! Even so, we, like the Magi, can never return to the darkness of Herod, for we have seen the light of "exceedingly great joy" in the presence of Jesus (v. 10 NKJV). We have entered the house where Jew and gentile, slave and free, male and female, have gathered in adoration of the Christ, and we belong to this fellowship of the child (v. 11; Galatians 3:28).
In Epiphany, we have glimpsed the power, the purpose and the pattern of God's mission. As Epiphany has revealed that mission, let us join the mission of Epiphany!