The Meaning of Epiphany
The Christian festival of Epiphany is on 6 January
by Rebecca Parkinson (revised, originally published in 2013)
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, such as a baby’s toy for a baby, a toy car for a child and a mobile phone for an older child or an adult. The children will be asked to guess who might receive each gift.
- You will also need to recount a story about a present that you received that was a complete surprise. Alternatively, arrange for another member of staff who has received a surprise present to talk about what happened.
- Have the following definitions written on pieces of paper or card to display during the assembly:
– 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 various objects and ask them to guess who might like to receive them as a present. Some might be more suitable for a baby or child; others for a teenager or an adult.
Show the objects one at a time.
Each time you show an object, ask the children why it would be suitable for the person suggested. Ask why you wouldn’t give certain presents to certain people – for example, why not give someone in their 80s a baby toy?
- 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 want or like, or a gift from a special person.
- Talk about a time when you received a present that was a complete surprise or ask the prearranged member of staff to do so.
It may have been when you were a child or an adult; it may have been for Christmas or a birthday; or it may have been when you got engaged or passed an exam.
- Explain that every year, on 6 January, Christians observe a festival called Epiphany. It 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 say the shepherds!
Explain that there were many differences between the shepherds and the wise men. Ask the children whether they can think of any of these differences.
– The shepherds were poor, whereas the wise men were rich.
– The shepherds came from the same country as Jesus (they were Jews); the wise men came from a different country (they were Gentiles). At that time, Jews and Gentiles never mixed with each other.
– The shepherds travelled from a nearby field, whereas the wise men travelled a long way.
– Angels appeared to the shepherds; the wise men followed a star.
Although the shepherds and the wise men were very different, God wanted both groups 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 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 each of the three gifts 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 into the skin of someone who had died. It indicated that Jesus’ death would be important.
- Ask someone to hold up the card that defines Epiphany: ‘a church festival that celebrates the visit of the wise men to Bethlehem to see the baby Jesus’.
Explain that our 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 that defines an epiphany: ‘a sudden and inspiring revelation’.
Remind the children that at the time when Jesus was born, Jews and Gentiles (non-Jews) never mixed. It would have been very surprising to find that God wanted Gentiles (the wise men) to see Jesus.
One of the things that the festival of Epiphany reveals is that God doesn’t have favourites; instead, God welcomes people from any background and nationality.
Time for reflection
The wise men were rich enough to bring special gifts to Jesus. However, even though it isn’t recorded in the Bible, the shepherds might have brought gifts for Jesus too. The well-known Christmas carol ‘In the bleak midwinter’ contains the following verse:
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. Ask them, ‘What do these words mean to you?’
Pause to allow time for thought.
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.
‘In the bleak midwinter’, available at: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=-BNKmVmfdAo (4.23 minutes long)