The feast of Epiphany (January 6) is almost as important as Christmas in Venezuela. This is not least because children receive presents on both days.
Epiphany commonly referred to as “el Día de los Reyes” (Day of the Kings), . It is customary in many regions of Venezuela on Epiphany Eve (January 5) for children to leave their shoes outside the doors of their rooms for the “Reyes Magos” (“Wizard Kings”, i.e., Magi) to deposit gifts inside. It is also a custom to invite family and friends to dinner where the Rosca de Reyes, frosting-covered bread filled candied fruits, raisins and nuts, is served with wine.
The only bread and wine that we served on Epiphany Sunday was in the sacrament of the altar, however, after the service we distributed gifts to the children. We sang “Del Oriente somos los tres”, the Spanish version of “We three kings of Orient are”, and a beautiful Spanish carol, “Tras hermosa lucero” (“After the beautiful bright star”).
Tras hermoso lucero, tres magos viaban, pensando a palacio llegar.
Y llevaban regalos preciosos al Rey que deseaban venir a adorar.
Al llegar a Belén, ¡ved que bella!
Al llegar a Belén, ¡ved la estrella!
Con su luz alumbraba un establo y allí, en el heno dormía el gran Rey.
We did most of our Christmas gift-giving on the last day of preschool before the holiday break. The children received gifts and shared with their parents a traditional meal of potato salad, pan de jamón (bread filled with ham, olives and raisins) and hallacas (a mixture of different meats, raisins and vegetables wrapped in cornmeal dough, folded within banana or plantain leaves, and boiled or steamed afterwards),
We had our main Christmas service on Sunday, December 30, with many people having returned from their vacations on that day. That was followed by an evening service the next day to remember the circumcision and naming of Jesus (strictly speaking, according to the western European church calendar, this event is marked on January 1). The New Year's Eve service include a choir, consisting mainly of Luz Maria's grandchildren, who sang more Christmas carols, since it was only the eighth day of the 12 days of Christmas.
Now that we have entered the Epiphany season (from now until Ash Wednesday), it is good to reflect on what “epiphany” means. The word is derived from the Greek ἐπιφάνεια, which means “manifestation” or “appearance.” and is used in 1 Timothy 6:14 and 2 Timothy 1:10 specifically to refer to the revelation of God in Christ.
We remember four epiphanies during this season:
- The epiphany to the “wise men” or Magi (Matthew 2.1-12).
- The baptism of Jesus by John the Baptist (Luke:15-22).
- His first miracle, performed at the wedding of Cana (John 2.1-11).
- The transfiguration of Jesus (Matthew 17:1-9, Mark 9.2-8).
The journey of the Magi to Bethlehem, guided by a mysterious star, signifies the revelation of Christ as a “light to lighten the Gentiles”, even as He first was revealed to humble sheperds as the glory of His people, Israel. Over the centuries, many have puzzled over what exactly was the star of Bethlehem. Was iit a natural phenomenon such as a meteor, comet, supernova or an alignment of planets to appear as one bright heavenly body? Certainly God can use natural phenomena to reveal His will. The stars and planets move in their courses according to His design. But He is not limited to working within the natural realm. The star could have been something completely miraculous, that is to say, beyond rational explanation.
The real mystery is what the Magi found in Bethlehem. As St. Paul writes in our epistle for Epiphany, Colossians 1:23-27, “the mystery hidden for ages and generations but now revealed to his saints. To them God chose to make known how great among the Gentiles are the riches of the glory of this mystery, which is Christ in you, the hope of glory. Him we proclaim, warning everyone and teaching everyone with all wisdom, that we may present everyone mature in Christ.”
We will remember the baptism of Jesus next Sunday. In this event we see revealed the holy Trinity: the Father as a voice from heaven proclaiming Jesus His beloved Son, and the Holy Spirit descending on Jesus in the form of a dove. The Lord's baptism marks the beginning of His public ministry.
On the second Sunday after Epiphany, we commemorate the turning of water into wine at Cana, the first in a series of miraculous acts that the Apostle John calls “signs”. These were to confirm His claims of divine authority and power.
Finally, on the Sunday before Ash Wednesday, we have the story of the Transfiguration, Jesus appears to Peter, James and John as shining with divine light and with Moses and Elijah by His side.
God grant that we may continue to marvel at the mystery of the Incarnation, the Word made flesh, and rejoice at the manifestations of His glory as the promised Savior of all nations until the time comes to reflect on His humiliation and suffering, only to rejoice once more on the day of His resurrection. Amen.