The word 'Epiphany' means 'manifestation'; at the feast of Epiphany we celebrate the fact that when the wise men came to see the child Jesus, the Messiah (God's anointed one) was being shown to Gentiles (non-Jews).
The wise men ('magi', probably astrological priests of some sort) were heathen foreigners; yet they were the ones who recognised the significance of the star and were prepared to do something about it. The religious Jews may have seen the same star, but since the Bible put astrology on the same level as witchcraft and idolatry (see Isaiah 47:10-15) and told them not to pay attention to signs in the heavens (Jeremiah 10:2) they would not have taken any notice. But when the wise men appeared in Jerusalem, they paid attention; Matthew tells of a general consternation at the wise men's news.
The differing reactions of the wise men of the East and the religious people of Jerusalem shows the wisdom of God in choosing to reveal his activity to these heathen. We may wonder why God chose to use astrology to reveal his work, when he forbids his people to pay attention to it. His use of it does not make astrology permissible to us, however true astrological predictions or interpretations may be. But he knew the wise men he was dealing with, and got through to them in a way they understood. God still reveals himself to people in ways others find mysterious.
The important thing is the way the wise men acted on their knowledge. The Jews knew where the Messiah would be born; but they did not go with the wise men to see for themselves. The wise men had made the journey, probably at great cost and risk; and they took treasure chests with them. When they saw King Jesus, they offered him gifts which we with hindsight see as having great significance. We don't know what the wise men were thinking when they chose their gifts; but we can be sure that their gifts were truly acceptable.
ISSUES FOR TODAY
There may be truth in horoscopes, in fortune telling, in other religions. There may be good done people using magic or other sinful activities. Does that make them right? Do Christians have the right to get or remain involved with such things, just because 'they work'?
Does God reveal himself to people outside the Kingdom of God? QUESTIONS
1) What gift would you offer the child Jesus, and why?
2) Jews regarded Gentiles as 'outsiders'. Who are the 'outsiders' today? How should we regard them?
IDEAS FOR MEETINGS
Welcome question: What was the gift at Christmas that gave you most pleasure in giving, and what gave you most pleasure receiving?
Worship: Give to each person a piece of paper and ask them to write or draw something that represents a gift they would like to give to Jesus. After a time, when not all have finished, ask the members to explain what they have been doing. Then as an act of giving to God place them, unfinished as they are, on a table. Explain that nothing we offer God is perfect, yet through Christ it is accepted. Give time to look, and to absorb. Then have a time of thanksgiving for God's gifts to us.