You may think that my greeting is a bit late. Well, it is not. You see we are in the middle of the Christmas Season. What happened before Christmas Day was Advent. What happens after Christmas Day until January 6 is the Christmas season. That is until Epiphany. This is where the Christmas carol, The Twelve Days of Christmas, gets its name.
The word epiphany comes from the Greek ἐπιφάνεια, epiphaneia, and means manifestation or appearance. Epiphany is celebrated as a way of commemorating the Visit of the Magi to Jesus. The date of Epiphany is different for Eastern Orthodox churches because they use the Julian calendar rather than the Gregorian. Many Protestant churches, like us, celebrate Epiphany as a season: one that runs from the last day of Christmas until Ash Wednesday.
It is unfortunate that many families don’t make a bigger deal out of Epiphany and choose instead to celebrate only Christmas, and do it from Thanksgiving until Christmas Day. In doing this sort of American Mercantile Christmas or retail approach to a joyous holiday, we end up missing an opportunity to teach our children and the world around us some simple Bible facts and at least three great themes in Scripture.
In the facts column we could list that
(1) the Magi did not visit Jesus in the manger – they visited him after the holy family had moved into a house,
(2) Jesus was about two years old when the Magi arrived – after consultation with the Magi, Herod had the boys in Bethlehem that were two years of age or younger killed, and
(3) Herod was alive when Jesus was born. From other historically, verifiable literature, we know that Herod died in 4 BC in Jericho. Combining this information with point 2, we can do the math and find that Jesus was born around 6 BC or earlier. Yes, if the monk, Dionysius Exiguus of Scythia Minor, who devised a calendar based on Jesus’ birth date, had done his work with more precision, it would be at least the year 2024 anno domini (A.D.).
In the great themes column we could list
(1) the promise that Jesus would return again to judge all mankind, the prophesies of the Old Testament point to this second advent (not just the first). Jesus’ first advent is seen in Christmas and Jesus’ 2nd advent or Second Coming is judgement day,
(2) the prophesies of the Old Testament were fulfilled in the birth of Jesus, the coming of Jesus to our hearts is not just a one-time event, it is a season, and
(3) the love sent to the earth, in Jesus, was for all people. The presence of the Magi (foreigners) makes this clear.
When my children were young, they filled their shoes with oats on the evening of January 5 (the eve of Epiphany) and placed them on the front porch of the house. They were told that they were doing this so that the Magi’s camels could have something to eat on their way to find Jesus. The next morning, they found the oats gone and their shoes filled with candy and small presents. They were told that the Magi had left these in payment for the oats that their camels had eaten. I did this to drive home the point that the Magi were not there with the shepherds when Jesus was born and to begin to lay the framework for the points listed above. My children did this until they left home and it is a tradition that has now been passed on to my grandchildren.
It is my prayer for each one of you that you will have a blessed end to the Christmas Season, a joyous Epiphany, and a wonderful New Year.
Yours in Christ,
P.S. Don’t forget to set your shoes out on the fifth.