I hope you still have your Christmas decorations up! After all, today we celebrate the Epiphany, known in many cultures as “little Christmas.” Christmas celebrates the birth of the long awaited for messiah of the Jewish people. This good news is revealed by angels to a group of shepherds abiding in the fields keeping watch over their flocks by night. Epiphany celebrates the birth of the savior of all nations. This good news is revealed by a star followed by gentile magi to the place where the child lay. When the wise men came to Herod in Jerusalem inquiring about the child whose star they had followed, the scribes Herod called together were able to explain where the messiah should be born, but they remained quite unperturbed about the news. Although they were familiar with visions like the one in today’s first reading, they seemed impervious to the possibility that Isaiah’s promised caravans and gift-bearing royalty had, at long last, arrived on their doorstep. For whatever reason, they did not accompany the travelers from the East on their journey to Bethlehem. Similarly, many my know the whole of Christianity but make no movement. The power that forever altered heaven and earth leaves many people completely unmoved. But what a difference! With only a rumor to go by, the visitors from the East traveled a far distance in search of One whom they thought would make a difference in the world. Obviously, that “rumor” that good news, has spread throughout the world, and today’s feast attests to the universal scope of Jesus’ mission and God’s all-inclusive plan of Salvation. The various ways in which this feast is celebrated by believers everywhere also witnesses to the international character of the church.
One of those traditions, not too familiar in the United States is marking of the church doors with chalk, which we are doing today. Epiphany, also known as Twelfth Night, Theophany, or Three Kings Day marks the occasion of a time-honored Christian tradition of “chalking the doors.” The formula for the ritual — adapted for 2020 — is simple: take chalk of any color and write the following above the entrance of your home: 20 + C + M + B + 20. The letters have two meanings. First, they represent the initials of the Magi — Caspar, Malchior, and Balthazar — who came to visit Jesus in His first home. They also abbreviate the Latin phrase, Christus mansionem benedicat: “May Christ bless the house.” The “+” signs represent the cross, and the “20” at the beginning and the “20” at the end mark the year. Taken together, this inscription is performed as a request for Christ to bless those homes so marked and that He stay with those who dwell therein throughout the entire year.
Have a blessed Christmas Season!