The Festival of the Epiphany in the Church’s history originated in Egypt in the second century, the date of January 6th being chosen to oppose the birthday celebration of the Egyptian deity Osiris on that day. The original focus of this Festival was on the Baptism of the Lord Jesus Christ, but by the fourth century in the Eastern Churches, the Nativity of Christ and his Baptism were the principal events celebrated in this Festival. The Lord’s first miracle at Cana also came to be associated with this day. In adopting this Festival later in the fourth century, the Western Churches portrayed it as commemorating the visit of the Magi and emphasizing God’s revelation of Christ to the Gentiles (adapted from p. 107, Massey H. Shepherd, Jr.: The Oxford American Prayer Book Commentary. New York: Oxford University Press, 1955).
Epiphany is the coming of God to man in and through the Lord Jesus Christ for the particular purpose of redeeming and saving mankind. Whereas in the polytheistic religion of the ancient Greeks, an epiphany was the appearance of the gods to help people on earth, for Christians the Epiphany is the advent of Christ, and can refer to his second advent as well as his first (2 Thessalonians 2:8; 1 Timothy 6:14; 2 Timothy 1:10; 4:1 & 8; Titus 2:13). This Epiphany has as its goal the salvation of the world through Christ. St. Paul linked the first coming of the Lord Jesus Christ to the second in his Epistle to Titus:
For the grace of God that bringeth salvation hath appeared to all men, Teaching us that, denying ungodliness and worldly lusts, we should live soberly, righteously, and godly, in this present world; Looking for that blessed hope, and the glorious appearing of the great God and our Saviour Jesus Christ; Who gave himself for us, that he might redeem us from all iniquity, and purify unto himself a peculiar people, zealous of good works.
(Titus 2:11-14, KJV)
In this passage, St. Paul links the appearing of the grace of God in Christ for all people to having the “the blessed hope” of the appearing (epiphany) of “the great God and our Saviour Jesus Christ” (Titus 2:13). From this passage it is evident that the Lord Jesus Christ’s first advent had the purposes of giving his life to redeem people from all sin, purifying for himself his own people, and training those people to abstain from ungodliness and worldly desires, and instead live sober, righteous and godly lives in this world. As the faithful embody this discipline and training in their daily lives, so they are being made ready for the fulfillment of their blessed hope of the resurrection and of the glorious appearing (epiphany) of the great God and Savior, Jesus Christ.
In another passage of this same Epistle to Titus, St. Paul gives us more insight into the effects of the first advent and epiphany of the Lord Jesus Christ. This passage, like the first passage from the Epistle to Titus quoted above, is read at services on Christmas Eve or Christmas Day:
But after that the kindness and love of God our Saviour toward man appeared, Not by works of righteousness which we have done, but according to his mercy he saved us, by the washing of regeneration, and renewing of the Holy Ghost; Which he shed on us abundantly through Jesus Christ our Saviour; That being justified by his grace, we should be made heirs according to the hope of eternal life.
(Titus 3:4-7, KJV)
The epiphany of the Lord Jesus Christ was a revelation of God our Savior’s love toward man. The washing of regeneration, or Holy Baptism, and the renewal through the Holy Spirit, received by Christians after repentance from sin and expression of faith in God the Holy Trinity, are gifts of God’s grace, flowing from his great love and mercy to mankind. The Holy Spirit God poured out on us richly through Jesus Christ our Savior, so that, being accounted righteous by his grace, we might become heirs according to the hope of eternal life.
God’s Epiphany of the Lord Jesus Christ has resulted in reconciliation with God through the death of Jesus on the cross, as well as the manifold gifts of grace that are the benefits of salvation, including the outpouring of the Holy Spirit.
The Holy Spirit, who is the Spirit of truth, leads the faithful in all the truth (John 16:13). Since the Lord Jesus Christ is the Way, the Truth, and the Life (John 14:6), the Holy Spirit leads God’s people in the fullness of the truth that Jesus is, and inspires their hope in his future appearing, or epiphany at his second coming. Meeting the Lord Jesus Christ in spirit through the Holy Spirit entails coming to know the truth of who Jesus is, and what power he can exercise in and through us, to defeat sin, and bring everyone of us to complete deliverance from evil.
In his book The Road Less Traveled, the psychiatrist M. Scott Peck observed that people need to live their lives in total dedication to the truth, and not to direct their minds using their own outdated and incomplete maps of reality. To achieve this one needs to examine oneself continuously and stringently. I would add that one needs to do so, though, under the guidance of the Holy Spirit, who leads us in all truth, including the full truth about ourselves. The Holy Spirit also reassures us of the love of God and comforts all who genuinely seek to draw near to God. The Holy Spirit will expose all false maps of reality in our lives, all sinful attitudes and habits of thought, and, as we yield ourselves to him, will guide us in rectifying our thoughts, words and deeds, so that we learn to discern the perfect will of God in every area of our lives and do it. All this happens day by day, as we listen more and more to the Holy Spirit, and remain steadfast both in our faith in the Lord Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of sins and in our hope of his glorious appearing when he comes again.