For the record, there are twelve days to the Christmastide season… let the feasting continue! We should know this from the famous Christmas carol, yet these days most of us may just scratch our heads as to what, when, and why the twelve days are. It turns out that the 12 days song actually has some relation to a variety of theological themes. Coming to the point thought, we’ve moved out of the Advent season and into the Christmas season. In my Advent book, I have included an extra set of daily offices for use during the Christmas season… kind of a bonus for those who made the purchase. Although the Advent synchroblog has ended, the daily office and the celebration of Christmas go on. The extra office is designed to keep the Christmas themes present in our minds throughout the season. In the book, I introduced it this way:
Christmastide. The hope of Advent once fulfilled, reminding us of the surety of the fulfillment of a second Advent of Christ. We look to the new year on the calendar, and begin packing up the Christmas decorations. But wait! The church calendar is not so quick to pack away the stable, the manger, and the greenery as soon as the last relative is bundled out the door with the last bits of uneaten fruitcake wrapped in foil and insistently foisted upon them as they go.
The Christian calendar marks the season of “Christmastide” until January 5th, when it is followed by the Feast of Epiphany to mark the revelation of Jesus at his baptism in the Jordan by John. We also remember the visit of the Magi, who despite the present configuration of all the stylized nativity scenes, didn’t actually make it to the stable but visited the home of Mary and Joseph when Jesus was about two years old. We are the poorer for having allowed Christmastide to become “Christmas Day” despite our continued singing of carols referring to the 12 days of Christmas, or Yuletide. Christmastide is a season of Joy, of hope fulfilled. We would do well to savor it a little longer.
The Magi continue in our minds, and have been recently commented upon by Scot McKnight and Michael Spencer. My own take: there were three gifts, we don’t know how many magi. The magi were probably astrologers, what we might today consider “new age” types, so as to the prestige of this type of guest in a Jewish home…. let’s call it “unorthodox.” Astronomers today believe that the “star” was probably a rare alignment of planets together so that they appeared as one large body — which did happen, and would roughly have coincided with the birth of Jesus. It must have been something uniquely “other” in order to discern exactly over which house (yes, it says “house”) it rested. If it appeared when Jesus was born, there must have been time for them to travel some distance. Did they see the star in the eastern sky and travel east to Nazareth, or were they in the east and traveled west to Nazareth? (Don’t be so sure they traveled to Bethlehem.) The significance of their gifts may well be reading too much into the text. The important part: they were valuable, and when sold would have financed the flight to Egypt at just the moment the funds were needed.
We’re learning in our house about God as provider at “just the right moment,” and are therefore praying for the arrival tomorrow of some funds already in transit. It’s been a most difficult year, and if anything I am struggling more this Christmas than I was last year… this being a first anniversary, I seem to be grappling with something rather deeper than a brown study. We did step out to see Bee Movie this afternoon; I enjoyed seeing Sting on the witness stand, and the revelation to a shocked courthouse that his real name is not, in fact, Sting. But I digress.
For readings beyond John’s prologue during the Christmastide daily offices, I assembled the series of “I Am” statements in John, a series which significantly tells us so much more about the Word made flesh to dwell among us, and assists us in dwelling upon the import of Christmas. The Old Testament readings that accompany each one illustrates how the God of the Old Testament in fact portrays the very same characteristic. The affirmation of faith for the morning office is written from this:
A light shone in the darkness
But the darkness cannot grasp it.
Jesus is the Way, the Truth, and the Life;
He is the Bread of Life.
Christ is the Resurrection and the Life;
He is the Light of the world.
We have beheld the glory of Jesus, the Christ,
Who is the only Way to the Father.
He alone is the Gate and the True Vine,
He is the Good Shepherd.
Before time began,
He was all this, and more.