Monday, January 6, 2020


In the Christian calendar, January 6, Epiphany, marks the end of the Christmas season. In the secular world, Christmas seems to begin right after Hallowe'en and end at midnight on the December 25. This disparity between the shopping mall and the church sanctuary can be confusing, so just to set the record straight -- Christmas is a Christian holy day that marks the birth of Jesus, Saviour of the world. We do not know the actual day of His birth, but December 25th is the day chosen by the early church.

Advent is the four weeks before Christmas Day. While the secular world is in full party mode from the beginning of December, the Christian church is in a time of waiting, a season of contemplation and sacrifice. 
An example of the schism between popular custom and Christian tradition is the Advent calender. Many parents and grandparents give Advent calenders filled with treats to the children in their lives. In other words, the kids get presents every day until Dec. 25.  The Advent calender of my childhood had coin slots on every day and children were expected to put money (sacrifice) in the slots, then take the filled calendar to church as an offering on Christmas. 

Epiphany marks not only the end of the Christmas season, but the arrival of the Wise Men at Bethlehem. Given that most children's pageants lump the angels, the shepherds, the holy family and the magi into one big scene, it is easy to forget that the "travellers from the East" arrived later.

The Biblical record found in Matthew 2: 1-12 is brief, noting only that the men were guided by a star and arrived with gifts of gold, frankincense and myrrh and that they did not reveal to Herod the location of the Christ child. 
Over the centuries many traditions have grown up around these mysterious visitors. They've been given names, Caspar, Balthassar and Melchior. Eastern tradition sets the number of magi at twelve, while Western churches set the number at three. What is important to note is not the number, but the fact these worshippers were Gentiles--a fulfilment of the Old Testament prophecy that Christ would be a "light to the Gentiles."
Notice also, that the Wise Men (kings) (magi) worshipped, thereby acknowledging the divinity of Jesus. They would not otherwise have worshipped a Jewish child born to modest parents from Nazareth.

There are many wonderful legends around the Wise Men. One of my favourites is the story by Henry van Dyke Jr. about the "Fourth Wise Man"  who never did get to Bethlehem but spent his life giving his time and gifts to the poor and needy.

These legends bring joy to the Christmas season, they illustrate the Christian story and that satisfy our desire for pomp and riches in Bethlehem.They have inspired fine artwork and many carols.
But, if we are wise, like the magi, we will base our faith on the Biblical account. 
It has riches enough if we look carefully.

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