Just because I am weary with the adorable little knick knacks and sentimental décor of Christmas doesn’t mean I don’t love the Feast of the Epiphany. I do. A twelve day celebration at the onset of winter is just what we need to distract ourselves from the darkness—both physical and spiritual. Capping off the story of the Christ child’s birth—an event heralded by angels and plenty spectacular in and of itself—with gift bearing Magi, arriving long after the lowly shepherds have come and gone, makes a spectacular point for the faithful. This special child doesn’t just get the attention of nomadic shepherds: He’s captured the interest of the upper crust, as well.
I love imagining the three wise men wending their way through desert, presumably encountering all the difficulties typical of traveling long distances, arriving parched and dusty to fall on their knees to an untested ruler. I love the idea of those kings pledging fealty to an infant who may have cried or spit up as the kings murmured their adoration. I love the idea of precious but impractical gifts being presented to his mother. And I think I have it bad trying to select the right gift!
The spectrum of visitors and worshippers at that humble nativity scene exemplifies everything we Christians believe about our god. His appeal is broad, capturing the interest of the cynical and gullible, educated and ignorant, wealthy and destitute. He appeals to us both on a gut level and an intellectual level. Our god is wise to incarnate in the most lovable form humans can imagine: an infant. How could we not coo? How could we not worship him?
The church chooses the twelfth day after the Nativity to ritualize, formalize, the visit of the kings. It’s as if Bill Clinton, Jimmy Carter, and George H.W. Bush all showed up with gifts on your birthday. You’d make the news and feel special! And the event, taking place twelve days later is better than if it happened, say, two days later. Spread out the joy, then cap off the whole event with royalty’s visit. It’s a masterful plan.
The Eastern churches have a great tradition of waiting for gift exchanges until January 6, the Feast of Epiphany. I have always admired that practice—even though I’m an impatient person by nature. Delaying gift-giving for twelve days after the Feast of the Nativity would be like holding my breath for several minutes and then expelling it with one big hallelujah—challenging to accomplish, but wonderful if I could pull it off. Which I can’t. Our gifts are already consumed or put away, and Hubby brought home a bouquet of orange, yellow and purple flowers yesterday. Lovely!
But . . . I’m trying very hard to keep the framework of Christmas in my head as long as possible. After all, it is a gentle mindset. Baby. Sweetness. Peace. Those little mouth tremors and the tiny ruffled sighs. Little grunts and snorts. The softest skin you’ll ever feel. That serene good fortune one experiences in the presence of new life. I can forget, maybe for a minute anyway, the hideous acts being committed in our world, some of which are done in the name of that very baby.