Christmas extends for a full 12 days, ending with the coming of the Magi to the Infant Jesus. Their visit is known as an epiphany, which means “showing forth.” The first visitors to the creche were Jewish shepherds, poor men ostracized from polite society by their profession. (Think: smelly sheep!) The Magi or Wise Men came from a distant land and were Gentiles. They also had the means to undertake a trip, to find out what the appearance of a star in the sky really meant. They were told upon visiting King Herod in Jerusalem that a king was to be born in Bethlehem, and so the star led them there. Their visit may actually have been some time after the birth, since Matthew records that they visited a “house.”
We also don’t know very much about them, although church tradition has sketched a fanciful portrait of them, giving them names and assigning to them color. In any case, what is important is that they came and offered their gifts of gold, frankincense, and myrrh. Gold represents the crown of a king, frankincense was used at the temple as a sign of prayer ascending to the Father. It was a very precious commodity. Myrrh is a spice used for anointing the dead—a reference to Jesus’s death on the cross.
Our celebration of the Epiphany on Sunday, January 5, will begin with the chalking of the doors upstairs and downstairs with this sign: 2+0+C+M+B+2+0. It’s the year with the initials of the Magi: Caspar, Melchior, and Balthasar. Remember, the names are not given in the biblical account. Epiphany is the beginning of a new year in Christ. By entering our worship space under this sign on the door, we ask for the wisdom of Christ to know the truth, and upon leaving under the sign, we ask for the courage to be witnesses to the Gospel.
The church year is divided into two parts. The first six months represent the “Year of Our Lord,” and record the important events in the life of Jesus. The church year begins on the First Sunday in Advent. The second six months, beginning with the coming of the Holy Spirit on Pentecost, lead us through the story of the Apostolic Church, where faith grows and people embrace the new message of hope and peace.
In tune with this compressed life of Jesus, we celebrate Jesus’s birth and the visit of the Magi, and the following week skip over 30 years to Jesus’s first public appearance at his baptism at the hands of his relative, John. On this day we usually renew our baptismal vows, but this year we will have an actual baptism at the 11 a.m. service. Wait and see.
Following the Baptism of Our Lord, we enter the season of growth, wherein this compressed life of Jesus, he calls disciples, teaches, preaches, and heals people. The color of this season is appropriately green. The length of the season is determined by the date of Ash Wednesday, which itself is determined by the date of Easter.
tor David Eisenhuth