Work begins again in the morning and Christmas is put away for another year, except that the story is not yet complete. Not until next Sunday is the Twelfth Day reached.
T.S. Eliot wrote of the Magi’s journey,
‘A cold coming we had of it,
Just the worst time of the year
For the journey, and such a long journey:
The ways deep and the weather sharp,
The very dead of winter.’
They are lines he took from the English bishop Lancelot Andrewes who lived three centuries previously. The wise men, the Magi, have fascinated people for centuries. They are troublesome figures because they are much stronger than our Christmas card pictures, they are dangerous for the times they live in because no-one knows who they were, where they were from, or what dangers they might pose.
Centuries later the tradition developed that there were three of them, (the number comes fro the description of their gifts as gold, frankincense and myrrh), the names given to them were Caspar, Melchior and Balthazar. To this day they are popular figures in Germany and Austria. Go to towns in the Catholic areas of either country and you will see chalked above the doors of the houses and the shops ‘’C+M+B’ and the year. The inscription is a mark that carol singers have called on the Epiphany, singing the Good News of Jesus’ birth, just as the wise men, Caspar plus Melchior plus Balathazar, carried with them the Good News all those centuries before. The initials of the wise men CMB are also the initials for ‘Christus mansionem benedicat’, the Latin for Christ bless this house. The chalk inscriptions are a reminder of the Good News received by the wise men and also a prayer that the house that remembers the wise men will be a place of blessedness.
The wise men come on the Epiphany, a word meaning ‘light upon’ because it was seen as the day when the light of Christ came to be upon all people.
The Magi are remembered today not because T.S. Eliot wrote a wonderful poem in which he captures some of the mystery of these strangers, but because the Magi represent ourselves. The Bible up to this point has been about God’s relationship with a particular people, with the people of Abraham, the people of Israel, the Jews. Then this child in Bethlehem is born and the whole story is opened up. The Magi are Gentiles, they are foreigners, they are not part of God’s people, they do not share in God’s promises. But now all this changes, Jesus welcomes all who believe in him, whether Jews or Gentiles. We become one of God’s people not by being born as one, but by believing in this Jesus.