Christmas is a season, a span of 12 days. In our culture, Christmas is usually treated as a one-day affair–many of us don’t even leave the Christmas tree up until New Year’s Day, much less Epiphany. But Epiphany is a wonderful season and important to the church.
The images of the feast of Epiphany are those of gifts and of light. Think candles and stars, presents and scents. The Three Wise Men journey far to bring their gifts to God’s greatest gift to the world–Christ revealed to all people, all nations.
Years ago, I read in Sundays and Seasons, (Augsburg Fortress), a quote that I copied down:
“Our Epiphany mandate is clear. We are invited to be light for the world. The initial singularity of Christmas explodes outward in a great burst of light. Epiphany, the feast of lights, signals the end of the Christmas season, but not the end of the celebration.”
We’ve probably known the story of the Three Wise Men since childhood. Nowadays I have friends who set up a nativity scene in their home with the Wise Men placed far away from the holy family and manger. Every day during the Christmas season, they move the Wise Men a little closer–symbolizing the long hard journey they made to see the newborn king. We don’t know much about these Wise Men, but they’re often portrayed in ornate costumes. These are learned men of wealth and power–they are often called “kings” as in “We Three Kings of orient are.”
And yet these important men are not the first to greet the holy child. Common working men–shepherds–arrive before them. Already, the first would be last, as Mary sang in the Magnificat. They came laden with such preposterous gifts but were not turned away. Their gifts were probably not needed, but they were accepted and put carefully by, for they were brought with love.
What gifts do we bring to God and to the church–gifts of which we’re proudest–that we think are going to be valuable? And what gifts do we bring that we don’t value or we downplay, but are exactly what’s needed? It reminds us that the things the world teaches us to value are not often the things that God values.
On this day, the feast of Epiphany, give the Three Wise Men some thought. What does their story teach us about the kingdom of God? Do you mark the day and season in some way?
May we, like the Wise Men, come to honor the newborn king and may we, like them, find kneeling-space in the straw.
Kate Elliott is editor of Gather magazine.
Photo by Randy Robertson. Used with permission.