On, or near January 6th, the twelfth day of Christmas, the wise men or magi from the East finally get their day on the Christian calendar. By then, they will have appeared in many nativity plays, but I’m glad they get their own day, and that we call it Epiphany.
Epiphany is an event in which one sees or understands something new. It is good then that their day is the first Christian holy day in the new year. One new thing revealed through the visit of the wise men from the east was that God’s family includes outsiders. All kinds of strangers are strangers no more, but can confidently say, “I belong” and offer the church their gifts.
That is the good news of Epiphany for me this year!
The earliest Christians were Jews. In Jesus they saw God’s deliverer, in whom the reign of God on earth was finding its fulfillment. Isn’t it fascinating that the earliest stories they recorded about his life already include this openness to receiving gifts from strangers? I’m sure learning that lesson included some painful stretching for them, especially as the early church grew to include Gentiles. They must have searched texts from Hebrew Scriptures to help them understand the coming of the wise men. The answers they found are within the lectionary texts for this Sunday, in Psalm 72, and in Isaiah 60. I suspect finding these connections helped them open their hearts to Gentiles who had received the baptism of the Holy Spirit but were so very different from them in culture and diet.
How does Epiphany speak to us and our challenges? Does it help us celebrate the great diversity of God’s family? Can celebrating the visit of the wise men, help us accept gifts and wisdom from strangers in our midst? Can their stories help break down the barriers among us between insiders and outsiders, between the strong and the weak, rich and poor, young and old?
I believe that this breaking down of barriers, of opening ourselves up to be blessed by the strangers who enter our lives, is the real gift of Epiphany. It is a gift I want to treasure in my heart and one I hope will help me start the New Year well.
What is helping you start your new year? I’d love to hear about it.