“The Epiphany is the manifestation of Jesus as Messiah of Israel, Son of God and Savior of the world. The great feast of Epiphany celebrates the adoration of Jesus by the wise men (magi) from the East, together with his baptism in the Jordan and the wedding feast at Cana in Galilee. In the magi, representatives of the neighboring pagan religions, the Gospel sees the first-fruits of the nations, who welcome the good news of salvation through the Incarnation. The magi's coming to Jerusalem in order to pay homage to the king of the Jews shows that they seek in Israel, in the messianic light of the star of David, the one who will be king of the nations. Their coming means that pagans can discover Jesus and worship him as Son of God and Savior of the world only by turning towards the Jews and receiving from them the messianic promise as contained in the Old Testament. The Epiphany shows that "the full number of the nations" now takes its "place in the family of the patriarchs", and acquires Israelitica dignitas (is made "worthy of the heritage of Israel")” (CCC 528)
The Epiphany of the Lord is celebrated on January 2 in the United States. There are some countries which celebrate the feast as a Holy Day of Obligation and, therefore, celebrate it on January 6. The United States does not have it as a Day of Obligation and transferred the day to the first Sunday after January 1. The feast day brings us back to the life of Christ and the promises contained in the child born in a cave. Christians worldwide recognize the manifestation of God in Jesus Christ. The word “epiphany” is derived from the Greek word “epiphainen”, which means “to shine upon”, “to manifest”, or “to make known.”
“Jesus spoke to them again, saying, ‘I am the light of the world. Whoever follows me will not walk in darkness but will have the light of life.” (John 8:12)
The Epiphany reminds us that Jesus is shown to be the promised Messiah for which the Jews had been waiting. As the Catechism tells us, the Epiphany honors and recognizes the magi making the trip from the East to find Jesus and worship him. Additionally, we see Jesus made manifest to others through his baptism as well as the wedding at Cana. It’s through the baptism of Jesus we see God confirm to those around Him that Jesus is the long-awaited Messiah and Son of God. The wedding at Cana shows us, among other things, Jesus manifest himself by turning water into wine. The miracle shows Jesus has power over earthly things and, therefore, is God incarnate.
However, we focus our attention today primarily on the magi. The wise men who make the long journey to come adore and worship Jesus. The wise men were likely from Persia and made the 1,000-1,200 mile trip to Jerusalem by camel to bring gifts to the Lord and adore Him. Contrary to popular belief, the Bible does not tell us there were three wise men. In fact, it does not give us the number of magi who made the trip. The number three is taken from the number of gifts they brought to the Lord, but we are not told exactly how many there were on the journey. Throughout the centuries and different cultures, there have been a variety of beliefs in how many magi there actually were that night. In the Eastern tradition you will find an adherence to 12 magi. Some of the early fathers, as well as in the West, hold to three magi. Early fathers such as St. Leo the Great and St. Maximus of Turin accepted and held to three magi. There are four magi depicted at the cemetery of St. Domitilla and earlier paintings, even those at the tomb of St. Peter, depicts two. The names of the magi we have today are Caspar (Gaspar), Melchoir, and Balthasar and are taken from the writings of St. Bede. The number of magi is not as important as the meanings of the gifts they brought and the fact that they made journey at all.
Since the magi would have been traveling in a desert climate on camel, it is presumed they only traveled about 15-20 miles per day due to the limitations of the camel’s ability to travel long distances in that climate. As a result, it would have taken an estimated 60 days for the magi to make it to Jesus. Many times, we complain and refuse to travel 30 minutes by vehicle to spend some time in adoration before the Lord.
The coming of the magi also shows that pagans can indeed come to Jesus and those outside the Jewish religion can come to God the Father through Jesus Christ. It reminds us that Jesus did not come just for the Jews, but He came for the entire world. He came to be a light in the darkness of sin. He came to show the world the way to God and eternal life. He came to live so that we might live.
The Epiphany directs our focus to the times Jesus manifested to the world who He was and therefore calls us to follow Him. It reminds us that the light of Christ draws all men to repentance and salvation through Jesus.