The Epiphany

Event marks the visit of the wise men to Christ child

-Messenger photo by Hans Madsen
Rev. Patrick Behm, a priest with Holy Trinity Parish, poses next to a Nativity scene at St. Edmond Catholic School.

“Going into the house they saw the child with Mary his mother, and they fell down and worshipped him.”

This passage, from Matthew 2:11, tells of the moment when the divinity of the Christ child was first recognized by the three wise men or magi.

It’s a moment that today has become known as the Epiphany.

The Rev. John Sersland, associate pastor at St. Olaf Lutheran Church in Fort Dodge, talked about the meaning of the moment.

“The word epiphany means manifestation,” he said. “It’s all about Jesus being recognized to the world as its savior. Not just for the Jewish people, but for the whole world.”

-Messenger photo by Hans Madsen
Rev. John Sersland, associate pastor at St. Olaf Lutheran Church, poses with some of the figurines from a Nativity set including the infant Jesus and the three wise men or Magi.

The Rev. Patrick Behm, a priest at Holy Trinity Parish, explained the Epiphany in much the same way.

“It’s the manifestation of the divinity of the Lord,” Behm said. “We recognize that Jesus is God.”

The traditional date for the Epiphany is 12 days after Christmas.

“It’s celebrated 12 days after Christmas,” Sersland said. “However, it’s possible that the actual time may have been up to two years after the birth of Christ.”

Behm said that having a mass or celebration of the day exactly 12 days after Christmas is a tradition that’s fallen away.

“For as long as I can remember,” he said. “We celebrate that the first Sunday after.”

Much the same holds true for Sersland’s congregation.

“We don’t have a designated service,” he said. “We celebrate the Sunday following when we also celebrate the baptism of Jesus.”

The Epiphany is part of the much larger Christmas story and the biblical history of the life of Jesus. Scripture says that the magi arrived after following a star to Bethlehem.

Behm talked about how there were several known astronomical events that occurred at the time that may have been the star. Even without a known celestial event, it was common to navigate using stars for guidance at the time.

“We can’t say with certainty which one it was,” Behm said.

Behm said that for the Sioux City Diocese, there’s a special significance.

“Our cathedral is named the Cathedral of the Epiphany,” he said. “It’s a day of celebration for the whole diocese.”

Behm said that in many Hispanic cultures, the event has a greater significance for the faithful. Many churches with large numbers of Hispanic members will hold special services to celebrate.

There are spiritual values that the faithful can take away from the Epiphany.

“There are two things,” Behm said. “We recognize Jesus as Lord. Jesus as God. He really is the second person of the Trinity who has taken on human form to live among us.”

The other lesson comes from one of the next verses, Matthew 2:12.

“Being warned in a dream not to return to Herod, they departed to their own country by another way,”

“When we think of the experience of the magi their experience should translate to our own,” Behm said. ”They encountered Christ. We must return by the way of Jesus. As we encounter Jesus and build a relationship with him, we recognize we can’t go back another way.”

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