What Is Epiphany?
Epiphany is on 6 January
by Rebecca Parkinson (revised, originally published in 2012)
Suitable for Whole School (Pri)
To consider the meaning of the Christian festival of Epiphany.
Preparation and materials
- You will need a range of objects that could be given as presents to different people, for example, a baby’s toy – for a baby; a doll – for a child; a mobile phone – could be for various ages; and some items of clothing. The children will be asked to guess who might receive each gift.
- You will also need to prepare a story about a time when you received a present that was a complete surprise. Alternatively, you could ask another member of staff to do this.
- Write down on two pieces of card the following two definitions of epiphany. You will need to display these during the ‘Assembly’, Steps 9 and 10.
– Epiphany: a church festival that celebrates the visit of the wise men to Bethlehem to see the baby Jesus
– epiphany: a sudden and inspiring revelation
- Explain that, as it has recently been Christmas, you are going to show the children some presents and ask them to guess who might like to receive them – there might be something for a baby, a child, a teenager, an older person and so on.
Show the presents one at a time.
Ask the children why they think each present would be suitable for the person suggested. Ask why you wouldn’t give certain presents to certain people, for example, why you probably wouldn’t give a baby toy to an older person.
- Ask the children, ‘Did any of you receive a present this Christmas that you particularly liked, or that was especially important to you?’
Listen to a range of responses.
- Remind the children that a special present doesn’t have to be big or expensive; it may just be something that we really wanted or like, or a gift from a special person.
- Talk (or ask another member of staff to talk) about a time when you received a present that was a complete surprise. This may have been when you were a child or an adult; it may have been for Christmas or a birthday or even when you got engaged or passed an exam.
- Explain that every year, on 6 January, Christians have a special festival called Epiphany. This festival celebrates the visit of the wise men to the baby Jesus.
- Ask the children whether they can remember anyone else who visited baby Jesus. Hopefully, someone will suggest the shepherds! Explain that there were lots of differences between the shepherds and the wise men, and ask the children what those differences might be.
– The shepherds were poor; the wise men were rich.
– The shepherds came from the same country as Jesus (they were Jewish); the wise men came from a different country (they were Gentiles). Jews and Gentiles never mixed with each other.
– The shepherds were in the fields close by; the wise men travelled a long way.
– Angels appeared to the shepherds; the wise men followed a star.
Despite the fact that they were so different, God wanted the wise men and the shepherds to see the baby Jesus. Explain that this shows us that God wants everyone to see Jesus. In God’s eyes, it doesn’t matter if we are rich or poor or what country we come from.
- Explain to the children that just as the gifts that we talked about at the start of the assembly had a special meaning to the person who received them, so the wise men brought special gifts for Jesus. These gifts were gold, frankincense and myrrh.
- Christians believe that the three gifts all had a meaning. You may like to ask the children if they can guess what each gift could mean.
– Gold is a gift that is fit for a king. It recognized that Jesus was a great king, the king of the world.
– Frankincense is a special kind of fragrance that was used by a priest.
– Myrrh was a sweet-smelling liquid that was rubbed gently into the skin of someone who had died. It indicated that Jesus’ death would be important.
- Ask someone to hold up the card on which you’ve written the first definition of epiphany (‘Epiphany: a church festival that celebrates the visit of the wise men to Bethlehem to see the baby Jesus’).
Explain that the word ‘epiphany’ comes from a Greek word that means ‘making known’. The birth of Jesus was the beginning of God making known who Jesus is and God’s plan for the world.
- Ask someone to hold up the card on which you’ve written the second definition of epiphany (‘epiphany: a sudden and inspiring revelation’).
Remind the children that when Jesus was born, Jews and Gentiles (non-Jews) never mixed. It would have been a hugely surprising revelation that God wanted Gentiles (the wise men) to see Jesus (who was a Jew).
One of the things that the festival of Epiphany reveals is that God doesn’t have favourites; he welcomes people from any background and any nationality.
Time for reflection
It seems that the wise men were rich enough to bring special gifts to Jesus. Although it isn’t recorded in the Bible, the shepherds may have brought gifts for Jesus too. A well-known Christmas carol has this verse in it:
What can I give him, poor as I am?
If I were a shepherd, I would bring a lamb.
If I were a wise man, I would do my part.
Yet what I can I give him – give my heart.
Ask the children to think about these words by Christina Rossetti and consider their meaning.
Listen to a range of responses.
Thank you that you wanted both rich and poor to see baby Jesus.
Thank you that as we think about Epiphany,
We are reminded that every person is important to you.
Please help us to use all the gifts that you have given to us.
Thank you for all the good things that you give.
You may wish to play the Christmas song ‘In the bleak midwinter’ by Christina Rossetti, which includes the words quoted in the ‘Time for reflection’ part of the assembly. Two very different versions are available at: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=U0aL9rKJPr4 (4.33 minutes long) and https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=mPZn4x3uOac (6.10 minutes long)