I just spent two hours swapping furniture between my dining room and living room because I’m getting ready to host a Christmas dinner party that exceeds the square footage of my dining room. I do realize Christmas is past, but not entirely. Not yet.
While most of my friends and family have taken down their Christmas décor and packed it away for another year, mine is sticking around for one more holiday, a holiday that isn’t even printed on most American calendars: Epiphany, January 6.
Epiphany isn’t a holiday I grew up with, and I’m guessing many of my readers didn’t either. In fact, I didn’t know epiphany meant anything other than a mental phenomenon until late in my thirties when some friends and I tried to plan a Christmas dinner, but our conflicting schedules delayed the festivities until after the holiday had come and gone. Happily, my calendar that year did have Epiphany on it, so we decided to have our Christmas dinner then instead. And then we went about figuring out what made Epiphany important.
Among other things, Epiphany celebrates the arrival of the magi from the East at the house where the toddler Jesus lived with Mary and Joseph. If you don’t celebrate Epiphany, then the arrival of the magi usually gets lumped in with all there is to celebrate during the Christmas season. If the magi do manage to get an explicit reference, it’s usually with respect to the baby Jesus as the King of kings, the One who is worthy of the worship of lowly shepherds and exalted kings. (Of course, the magi weren’t really kings – they were astrologers, but nativity sets look better with kings than wizards.)
Isn’t that good enough? Why keep that Christmas stuff hanging around until the needles are ready to go up in flames and the cookies are stale? Maybe precisely because the magi do get lost in the celebration. Maybe their arrival twelve days removed from the frenzy is worth the extra two weeks to ponder. Jesus, the king of the Jews, came to the Jews. He was the ultimate Son of David, the awaited Jewish Messiah. So why, pray tell, do Gentiles celebrate His birth? The arrival of the Gentile magi tells us why Christmas is worth celebrating by all people. Jesus was born for Jews and Gentiles. The Gospel writer John would later say, “He came unto His own, but His own received Him not; but as many as received Him, to them He gave the power to become children of God” (John 1:11–12). The magi brought Jesus gifts, but the greater Gift was theirs—and ours.
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