(I have a strong aversion to the transferal of church feast days to the following, more 'convenient,' Sunday. This gets really tricky at the end of October, when you end up with Reformation Day, Feast of All Souls, and Feast of All Saints in a three day period...which can spread those three days over more than a week. However, given my current computer woes, the moving of the celebration from Thursday to today gives me a bit of an excuse. Really.)
Epiphany is a season of joy, the counterpoint to Advent before and Lent to follow. All things cycle, and Epiphany is one of the high points. It is about things revealed, acknowledged, known, and brought forth into the light.
The story opens with wise men from the east coming before Herod, having followed a star westward. These are men of learning, astrologers who have discerned that this star, a light shining in the darkness, heralds the birth of the King of the Jews. Who better to ask than Herod, current ruler? He'd know, right?
And the sages of his court did know - the prophets had foretold it. Bethlehem, in Judea.
This is not a sudden knowledge. This is something studied, learned, consulted about. Slowly, bits and pieces revealed to scholars on a hunt. Having talked with their colleagues and continuing to use the star for more specific navigation, they came to the house where Jesus and Mary were staying.
The only big, dramatic, instant divine 'epiphany' was the dream that told the wise men to go home a different way than they had come.
Herod also spend time in thought about this situation, and obviously concluded that whatever had happened in Bethlehem was a threat. Someone besides those visitors might read the signs in the same way, and that was a danger to his power base, to have someone wandering around Judea claiming to be the King of the Jews (or having it claimed in his name). The slaughter of all the children under two years old ensured that no one could claim to have been born under those stars in the right time frame to threaten him.
Neither the wise men or Herod acted in haste, without deliberation. They both looked for the answers, and found solutions to the problems they perceived. But it wasn't anything sudden, it didn't happen overnight or in an instant. Slowly, through what they found, lives were changed...both selfless and selfish ideas espoused after careful, thought out plans, both centered around revelations about a small child in Bethlehem.
Christ himself was revealed piece by piece, his ministry starting out small, his status recognized by few, slowly growing until the crowds followed him everywhere and he could not get away. His was a life that led people, slowly convincing by word and deed that he really was special, someone to follow, a light in the world, no matter how cruel life seemed. The feeling of 'it doesn't have to be this way' present in so many ways...the difference between what is and what could be made more obvious in every step he walked.
Epiphany is not only the time of sudden insight, but also a season of the slow reveal and of acknowledgment of contrasts. The wise men and Herod both worked to pull information together and came to wildly different conclusions as to what to do with the information. And as we gather our information, search our hearts, and discern God's will in the world, we have some questions we need to ask: What are we called to do? What insights into our lives, into our hearts, do we need to face? Where does the difference lie for us between who we are as sinners and who God wants us to be? In light, darkness, and in darkness, light. In the liturgical year, the foil of Advent's somber waiting or of Lent's dark sorrow is the night against which a single star shines brightly, leading the way.