A Seasonal Contemplation
by Rev. Michaël Merle
In the early Christian church the 6th of January was the day set aside to celebrate the great appearance or manifestation of the Christ. Epiphany means a moment of sudden and great revelation or realisation. The manifestation of Christ in Jesus of Nazareth, the great moment of revelation and realisation is the Baptism in the Jordan. It was this great epiphany that was first celebrated in the early Christian church – the recognition that Christ permeated the sheaths of Jesus of Nazareth. Soon after the early church began celebrating this epiphany, the celebration became associated with the revelation of the birth of Jesus, who was to be the bearer of the Christ, through the appearance of the Christmas Star which led the three great Magi to the place where the child resided with his mother. Then and now, the day (6th January) became the Three Kings Day. The other gospel event that was closely associated in the epiphany celebrations of 6th January was the wedding at Cana where the Christ-force within the body of Jesus shone sun-like into the water that turned into wine – thus revealing the power of the Christ-being to the disciples.
In The Christian Community a sequence of readings are chosen for Epiphany (a four week season) that reveal the progressive manifestation of the Christ on the earth and his growing powers of authority over earthly conditions. Hans-Werner Schroeder describes this very well in the small booklet “The Gospel Reading in the Cycle of the Year”:
What is the nature of the manifestation we are looking at during these four weeks?
The readings during this time are as follows:
What is the meaning of this sequence? Its consecutive steps speak of a progressive incarnation, a penetration of earthly realities by the spirit. The images themselves indicate this.
In Matthew 2 the star appears over the house in which the child is present; a direct image that a spiritual reality, the star, is preparing to enter an earthly dwelling. It is still shining over the body of the child which has been born, as happens with every new-born human being.
The following reading indicates the next step. The star no longer shines over the child and over the house, but radiates as wisdom and love from the twelve-year-old in the Temple. The star has moved in, it has ‘incarnated’ (that is, ‘become flesh’), and enters into its surroundings as the thoughts and words of the boy.
The third stage of this incarnation is indicated by the wedding at Cana. Now the star reveals that it is actually a sun, and that it breaks through the person who carries it within himself, not only as wisdom and love, but also with sun-like powers of transformation. What the sun accomplishes in nature — the transformation of water into wine in the vine — Christ accomplishes by virtue of his spiritual sun-like authority within humanity, represented by the guests at the wedding.
The final step is taken when a healing is read. The manifestation of the spirit within the realities of earthly life (that is, the epiphany of Christ) is intensified to become a power of healing, which not only transforms that which is healthy (Cana), but is able to heal what has become sick.
Why not the Baptism on 6th January?
The question is often asked, why the passage about the Baptism in the Jordan is not read in connection Epiphany. We have seen that the sequence of Epiphany readings describes a progressive incarnation. What appears in the Baptism in the Jordan as one tremendous image, the appearance of Christ from the spiritual world and his penetration of the body of Jesus, unfolds in four stages in the four Epiphany readings, thereby becoming visible as a process.
With this in mind it also becomes clear why the season of Epiphany with its four steps follows the grand revelation of Christmas. What has shone over us during Christmas in luminous splendour, now wants to descend in stages in order to become earthly reality; what at Christmas was the great, merciful promise of redemption, now wants to become a real human being, and accompany us in our daily lives.
Christmas can become for us more and more an elevated time of compassion and mercy. That it is possible today to add to it a further festive season of four weeks is one of the great gifts of the Christian renewal. It gives us the possibility of reflecting on our Christmas experiences, and to unite these with our daily lives.
Rudolf Steiner once revealed something of the mystery of the Epiphany weeks, when he said that during this time ‘Christ walks beside us’ (Cosmic and Human Metamorphoses, lecture of 20th February 1917), and that this is the time when we can become more and more conscious of what has happened at Christmas, just as in the morning we are able to have an echo of what we experienced during sleep. In continuation of our contemplation of the four Epiphany readings, we could add: At Christmas, Christ appears as the light from the spiritual world. At Epiphany he unites himself more and more with the world of earthly realities, he incarnates, so that he is able to ‘walk beside us’ — invisible, but real; as real as he is presented in the gospels, as a human being; that is, loving, teaching, transforming, healing.
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