When they saw that the star had stopped, they were overwhelmed with joy. On entering the house, they saw the child with Mary his mother; and they knelt down and paid him homage. Then, opening their treasure-chests, they offered him gifts of gold, frankincense, and myrrh. – Matthew 2:11-12
With the new calendar year upon us, a new season has also dawned in the life of the church. January 6 is the Feast of the Epiphany
, marking the arrival of those three wise ones to the manger of baby Jesus. This encounter is well represented in countless Nativity sets, and ends up being life changing for those pilgrims (and many more of the unnamed, who nevertheless accompanied them on the journey to Bethlehem). The Scriptures tell us that after the travelers encountered God in the flesh, they returned home by another road. This surely makes sense, for any transformational experience leaves us changed; alters our course from henceforth.
Much is made of that particular day, though, similar to the hubbub of New Year’s Day. Determined resolutions and renewed energy and aspirational mindsets emerge, sparking what hopes to be endured motivation. But, as one who goes through those annual rituals can attest, much of what is resolved fades over time. The spunk and pizazz of the new year all of the sudden turns into February 4 (or some other random day), and I am left wondering where all that determination went.
The same dilemma confronts those who experienced the epiphany of God. The high of those precious moments will surely be remembered, but will that encounter continue to mold and shape them in the weeks, months, even years to come? This reality is one reason the church extends the Feast of the Epiphany into a season commonly known as Epiphanytide
. For several weeks, the faithful seek to live into what relationship with God looks like; to uncover the many ways God appears, in the flesh, in a life and relationship that continues to unfold.
To signal this ongoing commitment, many in the tradition have observed a ritual known as chalking the door since the Middle Ages. Chalk is blessed, and an inscription is written above the entrance to their homes. The first initials of the Magi, those three wise ones (Caspar, Melchior, and Balthazar) are flanked by the year. For example, this year’s inscription would appear as such: 20 + C + M + B + 20.
“Chalking the door” is seen as invoking Christ’s blessing not only on the physical house but on the people who live there and those who visit. There is a long tradition of blessing homes, especially on the Epiphany, and the weeks that follow (Episcopal News Service
). This ritual is meant to serve as an ongoing reminder that God continues to dwell in each room of the home, as well as in each child of God.
One of those prayers, found in the Episcopal Book of Occasional Services (2003), captures a bit of the essence of this observance:
Visit, O blessed Lord, this home with the gladness of your presence, Bless all who live here with the gift of your love; and grant that they may manifest your love to all whose lives they touch. May they grow in grace and in the knowledge and love of you; guide, comfort, and strengthen them; and preserve them in peace, O Jesus Christ, now and for ever. Amen.
To acknowledge Epiphanytide at Berkeley, we offered similar blessings for our school this week in divisional convocations.
May this time of year, and the promise of hope and renewal, comfort you for the season ahead.