The revelation or manifestation of Christ’s presence is the heart of today’s solemnity, the Epiphany. We might wonder why we do not call it the Solemnity of Theophany. The two words share the same Greek root, phainein, which means to reveal or make known. However, the word theophany adds an additional idea—it specifically means the manifestation or appearance of a deity.
Why, then, do we not call it the Solemnity of the Theophany? Though today we celebrate the event by which Christ was first made known to the broader world (i.e. by the coming of the Magi), his divinity remained hidden. The faithful have long interpreted the gift of incense offered to the Christ child to be a recognition of his divine nature. However, that nature remained hidden behind the veil of his humanity.
The baby Jesus did not blaze with fiery glory. His voice did not shake the mountains, nor did his path part the seas. The child performed no miracles of unquestionable power, nor did he speak before his proper time. To all appearance, he was nothing but a small child in the arms of his mother. Therefore, today we celebrate his epiphany, not his theophany. Why did God choose to reveal himself as the Messiah in a small town, in Israel, roughly two thousand years ago?
By God’s grace I believe that Christ is the eternal God and my savior. However, I wonder if I would accept him as such if he appeared, not two thousand years ago in Israel, but today in this country. Would my modern mind, influenced by today’s cynicism, skepticism, and relativism, be able to acknowledge the hidden divinity in one who, by all appearances, was nothing more than an ordinary man? I do not know.
Perhaps it was precisely for this reason that He chose to manifest himself when He did. The world was ready then, and the benefit of its readiness was the planting of the faith in good soil, which allowed it to take root, grow, and spread throughout the world and throughout time. Therefore, on this Solemnity of the Epiphany we rejoice that God in his goodness chose to reveal his salvation at a time and place that allows us to celebrate the mysteries of our salvation thousands of years later, and thousands of miles away in Walla Walla, Washington.
At the same time, may our recognition of the mysterious ways in which God comes to man keep us ever attentive to how He wishes to meet us today, ―”specially in the lowly appearance of bread, and in the distressing disguise of the poor.” – St. Teresa of Calcutta.
Praised be Jesus Christ, now and forever!