Yesterday was the 12th day of Christmas – did you get your “12 drummers drumming?” If not, check with your true love. He or she was supposed to give that to you, along with all the other paraphernalia from that Christmas season. Christmas is actually the second shortest season of the Christian church year, if you count Pentecost Day as an actual season. Everything after Pentecost until Advent begins is known as “Ordinary Time,” or “the season after Pentecost.” But Christmas gets its 12 days, where legitimately, you could leave up all the decorations. Trouble is, as we moved Christmas into a very secular time, the “celebration of the Christmas season” sometimes begins even before Advent begins, as folks decorate to beat the band even way before Thanksgiving. Of course, many of those are the same folks who will toss the tree to the curb on Christmas Day, when, as I mentioned, the day is really only the first day of Christmas, with 12 more to go.
We didn’t quite make the 12 days before everything collapsed, and the bins came out and the beautiful wonder of Christmas went back down into the storage room. New Years was the best we could do, but it was still nice to have it last that long.
So now, we turn the page of the calendar to a brand new season – Happy Epiphany! Aren’t you excited? Well, it’s not well celebrated, to be sure, at least in America. In part, that’s because there are no presents exchanged, and no great feast to celebrate the day. Oddly enough, if you read the Christmas story, you will notice that the visitors to the manger that night brought no gifts whatsoever. The shepherds saw and were amazed, and then went out telling everyone what they had seen, but they didn’t drop off a little something for the baby, or a nice box of chocolates and cheese for Mary and Joseph. It’s not until we turn the page to Matthew 2 that we find the Magi, visitors from the east, who came to see Mary and the “child” Jesus in the house they were living in, and then brought the gifts we know so well, from seeing bathrobe clad 4th graders laying at the manger in the Christmas pageant. Most likely, the Magi came to visit a toddler king, probably 2 years old. We celebrate that happening on January 6 – Epiphany.
The idea of the Magi coming to see the child is to help us remember that Jesus was not just born King of the Jews, but a Savior, who is Christ the Lord, and the Lord of the entire world, even including Gentiles. So – do you have your Epiphany gift all bought and wrapped up to give to your loved ones? Or did you burn everything during those past 12 days – or probably no later than about 7:45 Christmas morning, before you have the flavored coffee and the caramel rolls.
I believe this shifting of the celebration of the seasons happened accidentally. It was probably as the world became less sacred -focused, and turned more secular, that it became so easy to shift the tradition to what was convenient. We hear all the time of families “having Christmas” at relatives or friends at all sorts of times during that week before Christmas, as some even “do Christmas” three or four times, depending on the extended family. However, the “doing Christmas” really amounts to a big meal, and then opening presents. Rarely is there the reading of the Christmas story, or a time of prayer or anything close to a holy moment, except for perhaps getting the present you wanted…
But January 6 gives us a marking place for our year. The season of Epiphany this year will extend to February 14th, which will be the day before Ash Wednesday or the start of Lent. Epiphany grows and shrinks due to the timing of the full moon just before Passover in the Jewish Calendar, which is also why Easter changes its time. Isn’t it interesting that the season to celebrate understanding Jesus as the Christ, and having revealed to us the fact that this baby is truly the Lord of the Universe completes its time on Valentine’s Day, just before we turn our faces to Jerusalem and take the walk of the Lenten season.
Do you see how rich and deep these seasons can mean to our faith, if we are willing to be intentional about them? The word “Epiphany” is Greek, and means literally the appearance or manifestation of Jesus as Savior of the World. When I lived in New Orleans for a year, Epiphany was celebrated with “King Cake parties,” where pretty good tasting cake-like pastries covered with green, purple and yellow toppings or sugars would be served. Inside the cake somewhere would be a small plastic or ceramic baby, representing Jesus. Of course, the one who received the baby was obligated to have the next party, so you can see how New Orleans really was focused on the party a bit more than the season. However, that they even did that much gets a tip of the hat from me.
So, not the 12 days, but the 36 days of Epiphany are before you. Following our theme, how will you intend to keep this season? How will you recall and celebrate Christ offered to this world? How differently might you live because you now understand that this is not just the season of dark winter, but the season of bringing the Light to the World, and living in gratitude that God has indeed sent the Son to bring joy, hope and eternal life? Perhaps over your first cup of coffee each morning, or whenever it works for you for this season, you might repeat this simple sentence: I now know and cherish the truth that Jesus Christ has come to bring me life, and light and hope. And maybe surprise a person or two by wishing them a “Happy Epiphany” today…
Word for the day: noctilucal. Pronounced nok-ti-LOO-kuh. Of course, it’s from the Latin. We find other words connected with it, such as nocturnal “nighttime,” or noctambulist, “sleepwalker.” Noctilucal refers to something that “glows in the dark,” or shines at night. “Noctiluca” was an old name for the Moon, as “noctulicy” is a fancy word for moonlight. The breakdown for the Latin is nox, meaning “night” and luceo, meaning “I shine.” It John’s Gospel in the first chapter, when the Word is made flesh and dwells among us, the “light shines in the darkness, and the darkness cannot overcome it.” Jesus is noctilucal to the nth degree.
After 43 years of ministry, Randy Cross lived his "fourth life" and shared about retirement, living boldly and intentionally in our world. To be sure, there was some North Dakota thrown in.