In our Western Christian tradition, Epiphany celebrates the visit of Magi to the Christ Child. In so doing Epiphany emphasizes God’s physical manifestation through Jesus Christ to the Gentiles. In other words, in Western Christianity WE become the focus of Jesus’ ministry. It is all about us Westerners.
In Eastern Christianity, the Day of Epiphany is also called, “Theophany.” Theophany celebrates the manifestation of God incarnated as Jesus Christ to all of humanity. For Eastern Christians the emphasis of the Christian faith is on incarnation–God with us–rather than on the death and resurrection.
The emphasis of the Incarnation is that God is with us now, in the present, no matter who we are, or even what we believe. Theophany emphasizes that Jesus Christ shows us the way of reconciliation with God. The emphasis is not on what we must do, but what God has done.
Theophany states very clearly that Divine Love has always been present. God does not need to be reconciled to humankind via some sort of atonement.
Yet, in Western Christianity the emphasis is on that very thing, our need to reconcile God to us. That is, our need for redemption before we can gain eternal life.
The emphasis of the Incarnation is that God is with all us now, in the present, no matter who we are, or what we believe or don’t believe. The celebration of Theophany emphasizes that the life of Jesus Christ (from conception to ascension) was to show us the way of reconciling ourselves with God.
It is as St. Francis claimed, in the birth of Jesus it is already Easter. In his coming in the flesh God affirms that it is good to be human.
Theophany affirms that we are created in the image of God, whole holy people with the potential to live as such.
Image Source: “The Magi,” The Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception (Washington, D.C.)