Christians have observed the Feast of the Epiphany as early as the end of the second century. Remember, the word epiphany comes from a Greek word meaning manifestation or appearing. So way back in the second century, Egyptian Christians combined three manifestations of God Incarnate to celebrate this feast. They were the first manifestation of Jesus Christ to the Gentiles, represented by the Magi. The manifestation of Christ’s divinity, as it occurred at his baptism in the Jordan. And, Jesus’ first recorded miracle at the wedding in Cana. While all three of these manifestations remain a shared focus of the feast day in Eastern churches, we Episcopalians tend to emphasize the story of the Magi following the star.
Our family has picked up a new Epiphany tradition each of the past few years. Two years ago we chalked our door for the first time, praying for God’s blessing upon all those who enter our home during the coming year. It’s been true joy seeing our children’s handwriting every morning after I return home from walking the dog.
This afternoon we’ll gather at our front door once again but this year we’ll alter our prayer a bit because visitors are no longer coming to our home.
Visit, O Blessed Lord, this home with the gladness of your presence. Bless all of us who live here with the gift of your love; and grant that we may manifest this love to each other and all whom we meet. May we grow in grace and in the knowledge and love of you; guide, comfort, and strengthen us, and preserve us in peace, O Jesus Christ, now and forever. Amen.
After the prayer, a child will climb our step ladder, reach up and write 2 0 + C + M + B+ 21 with a piece of chalk. This notes the new year and also includes the first initial of the traditional names of the Three Kings: Caspar, Melchior, and Balthazar. Over the years these three letters have become an abbreviation for the Latin prayer Christus Mansionem Bendicat: May Christ Bless this Home.
In 2020 I introduced Star Words to my family and church on Epiphany. A Star Word is just that —a star-shaped piece of paper with a word written on it. Every member of our church community receives a star gift to open on the Feast of the Epiphany, January 6th. Last year we drew our words at random from the same offering basket that we used later on in worship to gather up the tithes and monetary offerings. As people helped themselves to a star (without looking—just reaching in and grabbing!), they were asked not to give but to receive. I found it to be a lot like the order of things in God’s kingdom—God always gives first, and then we are invited to respond with our gifts and ourselves.
In 2020 my daughter drew the word ‘Boldness’ which was something that honestly terrified me. As soon as got home from church she told me that she needed to go do something really brave outside so she could live into this word. This child does not need help being bold.
The word I drew was ‘Rejoice’ and I realized about a month later that I received this word in a way very different than my daughter. While she remembered to embody boldness in her everyday life, she seemed reluctant to do so in her faith. I had no trouble rejoicing in my faith life, but often failed celebrating joy in my daily activities. It became a refrain that I prayed daily through a breathing prayer, rejoice, rejoice, rejoice, and this reminder to rejoice always became critical to my well-being during the pandemic.
Today as we draw our Star Words for year, I will acknowledge that I don’t fully understand what the word might mean for me in 2021, but that I receive it from God with gratitude. I pray that God’s Spirit will enable me to live into the word with intention and faithfulness in all aspects of my life. If you are interested in this spiritual practice, I have extra Star Words and am happy to draw one from the stack for you. Just comment below and I’ll send a digital one your way.
This year we will add this beautiful and applicable Epiphany at Home sheet to our celebrations. Created by the Rev. Jennifer McNally and the Rev. Anna V. Ostenso Moore of the Episcopal Church in Minnesota, it includes a bit of history, the story of the magi from the Gospel of Matthew, prayers, and instructions for chalking your front door door.
How will your family celebrate the Feast of the Epiphany today?