Background to the Feast of the Epiphany
The Epiphany is celebrated on the Sunday between January 2nd and 8th while the actual feast day occurs on January 6th (twelve days after Christmas). In many European countries the Epiphany, rather than Christmas (Feast of the Nativity), is the day of gift-giving.
The Epiphany is in commemoration of the gifts of the Magi taken from Matthew 2:1-12. The Epiphany is a celebration of the “revelation” of God in human flesh.
The popular song beginning “We three kings of Orient are…” is well known but it spreads an unlikely interpretation of Matthew’s account of the Visit of the Magi. It is generally believed that the three “kings” were actually astrologers following an unusual star. Had these three men been kings, they were likely to have brought escorts rather than traveling alone.
Interpretation of the Visit of the Magi
The story of the Visit of the Magi makes an important point about the role of the Messiah. Jesus is called “the newborn king of the Jews” by the magi who travel from the east. These men were not Jewish yet they paid homage to the King of the Jews.
Matthew, who wrote to a Jewish audience, hoped to express the universal role of Christ in this story. These men were foreigners but they honored Jesus as their king. Herod, who is not an heir of King David and not the rightful King of the Jews, was threatened by this new king and attempted kill him.
This reveals another important theme of the Gospels: Jesus was not to become a political King of the Jews to dethrone Herod or even the Roman emperor. Instead, he ushered in a new kingdom that extended beyond political regimes.
Epiphany Lesson Objectives
- SWBAT create a modern day version of the Visit of the Magi.
- SWBAT describe how the Matthew’s depiction of the Visit of the Magi reveals the universal role of Christ.
Epiphany Lesson Activities
1. Presentation: Provide some background to the students about the Feast of the Epiphany. You may use the student textbooks or create your own mini-lecture based on “Background to the Feast of the Epiphany” above.
2. Presentation: Read Matthew’s account of the Visit of the Magi (Matthew 2:1-12). Discuss the importance of this story. Using the “Interpretation of the Visit of the Magi” above, stress the importance of the Magi being from the East, non-Jews paying homage to the newborn King of the Jews, and why King Herod would feel threatened by the birth of Christ.
To understand the meaning of the gifts of the magi, show this video:
3. Practice: Have students create a modern-day version of the Visit of the Magi. Give them this simple chart as pre-writing:
3 Magi =
Gifts (Gold, Frankincense, and Myrrh) =
Bethlehem = South Bend, IN
Herod = FBI Director
3 Magi = scientists from Asia, Africa, and Eastern Europe
Star = E-mails
Gifts (Gold, Frankincense, and Myrrh) = credit card, priest’s collar, journal
Bonus Video: Chalking the Door
Chalking the door is a popular Catholic tradition on the Feast of the Epiphany. In this video I explain the meaning of the letters written in chalk above the doors of Christian homes: 20+C+M+B+YEAR: