Merry Christmas! (no, this is not a misprint) :)
Today, we celebrate the Epiphany of the Lord – that occasion when the Lord was made known to the world. Do we, however, know the significance of the
timing of this feast in connection to Christmas? That we might better connect Epiphany with Christmas, let me begin with a story (and the reason I entitle this column as I do).
Once upon a time, in my earlier years as a priest, I was greeting people after Mass on the feast of the Holy Family – the first Sunday after Christmas. My
greeting to people was quite simple, “Merry Christmas.” In the midst of various greetings, one gentleman, with childlike innocence and a helpful spirit, said to me in very plain terms, “Father, Christmas is over.” In the moment, I did not know whether to laugh, to gasp, or to knee-jerk respond to his words. Okay, so I exaggerate my reaction…but the fact of being told that Christmas was over when it was still less than a full week after Christmas day, I realized that we need to renew our understanding of the Christmas season, especially in light of what follows December 25th. In the world, one would think the Christmas season begins either the day after Halloween or the day after Thanksgiving and ends at the stroke of midnight on December 25th, when the “After Christmas Clearance Sales” begin. Unfortunately, the materialistic society has infiltrated the minds and hearts of many people of sincere faith, to the point that the people no longer celebrate twelve days of Christmas, but one day, with up to two months of “pre-Christmas” Christmas parties, dinners, etc. Mindful that some must have family Christmas gatherings on other occasions than December 24 or 25, the overall placement of Christmas cheer before December 25th has unfortunate consequences for our celebrating of that which comes later, in connection to Christmas.
Today’s feast is a prime example of what we miss if we place the end of Christmas at the Midnight beginning December 26th. Indeed, Christmas is the
celebration of the birth of Christ. Yet, remember that His birth was in a tiny town, tucked in the countryside of Judea. Who, besides those who were in Bethlehem and its vicinity, even knew of this story – of a child, born in a stable to poor peasants? Enter the Epiphany: the three wise men from the East arrive. Blessed and truly lead by the Holy Spirit, these men used their own knowledge of astronomy in addition to their faith to journey to that place where the newborn Messiah would be. This
moment contains an “epiphany,” of God as He “makes Himself known.” Properly speaking, the Epiphany stands as that feast when joy of Christmas was extended beyond Bethlehem to the whole world, as represented by the three wise men. They bring their gifts to the newborn king as expressions of faith, hope, and charity. (It is for this reason that people in places like Spain and Italy typically give gifts on Epiphany and not Christmas, but I digress…) In short, without the Epiphany, how would we even know about Christmas? Hence, I want to extend wishes of joy to you on this Feast of the Epiphany, as Christ is made known to the world. Said another way, I want to continue to wish all of you a Merry Christmas. :)
Fr. Joel Hastings