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Blog // Thoughts
January 6, 2009

Epiphany 2009

“When Jesus was born in the village of Bethlehem in Judea, Herod was king. During this time some wise men from the east came to Jerusalem and said, “Where is the child born to be king of the Jews? We saw his star in the east and have come to worship him.” When King Herod […]

“When Jesus was born in the village of Bethlehem in Judea, Herod was king. During this time some wise men from the east came to Jerusalem and said, “Where is the child born to be king of the Jews? We saw his star in the east and have come to worship him.” When King Herod heard about this, he was worried, and so was everyone else in Jerusalem. Herod brought together the chief priests and the teachers of the Law of Moses and asked them, “Where will the Messiah be born?”

They told him, “He will be born in Bethlehem, just as the prophet wrote, ‘Bethlehem in the land of Judea, you are very important among the towns of Judea. From your town will come a leader, who will be like a shepherd for my people Israel.’ ”

Herod secretly called in the wise men and asked them when they had first seen the star. He told them, “Go to Bethlehem and search carefully for the child. As soon as you find him, let me know. I want to go and worship him too.” The wise men listened to what the king said and then left. And the star they had seen in the east went on ahead of them until it stopped over the place where the child was. They were thrilled and excited to see the star.

When the men went into the house and saw the child with Mary, his mother, they knelt down and worshiped him. They took out their gifts of gold, frankincense, and myrrh and gave them to him. Later they were warned in a dream not to return to Herod, and they went back home by another road.”

Today is Epiphany, the sixth day of January and the end of the Christmas season. It’s a time to remember the Magi, or Wise Men and their role in the Christmas story (as we read in the quote above, from Matthew’s Gospel). In our household we eat Galette de Rois, exchange small presents and bring down the Christmas decorations. Tomorrow the tree will be gone, the candles put away and the Christmas music boxed up till next December.

Epiphany is a funny old word. In this context it suggests the manifestation of the divine. But. we more commonly use the word to describe a sudden and dramatic realisation. Perhaps, we should use the later meaning more often in our religious observance of the day as well.

Because, this day, 12 days after Christmas, we have had plenty of time to “realise” what this whole season is about. We’ve exchanged cards, gifts and greetings and with had the chance to reflect on the status of our various relationships. We’ve said good-bye to one year and confronted our hopes and fears for a new one.

By the time we get to this day we’ve thought and felt a lot in a short space of time.

No wonder this week is so hard for many. Every year we read about how the first Monday after New Year’s marks a peak in cases of depression. In many countries this week also marks a high in marriage breakdowns as well. These days are often a harsh confrontation with reality.

Perhaps that’s what we need to “realise,” the epiphany we need on Epiphany Day – the inevitability of the real. Maybe this gives Christmas a greater significance; if we celebrate knowing this “reality day” waits just around the corner? Like the urgency that comes from reminding ourselves on Sunday, that we will, inevitability and all too soon, face Monday morning.

For me, this Christmas season has been very material. I don’t mean materialistic, in the sense of presents and spending. But, material in the sense of the importance of things. Some Christmases past have been very abstract for me – all about ideas, theology and the like. This Christmas touching things that remind of life has carried special significance.

The ornaments on our tree go back to our first Christmas as a couple, they recount places we have lived and visited and have been hung on four different continents. Our selection of music is a similarly diverse biographical record. This year my mother sent me a traditional home-made Chilean Pan de Pascua that reconnected me with my childhood in an uncommon way. Lighting the advent candles, opening and reading the calendar together and even wrapping the presents all felt slower and more drenched in meaning this year.

And, our tree was beautiful.

What the “thing-ness” of this Christmas has reminded of, the Epiphany for this year, is how precious time is and how easily we squander it when we rush around in a daze of business and self-importance. This year, with almost no social events on offer, we spent a lot of time together as a family. I often caught myself thinking about how we use our time together, about those small and often cheap things we collect that remind us of places and experiences and the treasure that loved ones are as we get older. In a way, I’ve always known these things, but today I realise that I know them in a deeper and more personal way.

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