20 + C + M + B + 19
When Matt and I were first married, our good friends Neil and Faith showed up at our apartment one day with a gift. It was an extra mixer they had received for a wedding present, if I remember correctly. They tried to make us guess why we were giving them a present. We had no idea. They told us it was Epiphany and that giving gifts was a tradition of this holiday (…even though I’m not so sure the tradition encourages re-gifting wedding presents!). They also told us the spiritual significance of the holiday, that it was a celebration of the day the magi came to visit Jesus.
Epiphany comes from a Greek word which means “manifestation,” and on Epiphany we celebrate Jesus’ physical manifestation to the Gentiles and that Jesus came for everyone. As one of my pastors, Dezo Schreiner, noted in her sermon today, there used to be a sign outside the temple that said, “No man of another race is to enter within the fence and enclosure around the temple, Whoever is caught will have only himself to thank for his death which follows.” Women, too, were only allowed access to the second court of the Temple. Dezo went on to list some of the signs that divide people in our society today: “signs that proclaim no Muslims, no Syrian refugees, no women in our pulpit, no person of a different color in my neighborhood, no homosexual in my church, no Central American refugee in my country.”
Yet we as Christians worship a God who is also the Incarnation: Jesus is Immanuel, God with us. Jesus became human so that he could be “with us”…all of us. He welcomed the stranger and the sinner. He fed the hungry. He healed those who bodies were sick, whose souls were broken. Haven’t we all, at one time or another, been the stranger, the sinner, hungry, sick, and broken?
Epiphany isn’t celebrated much in the US, but in some countries this holiday is as big as – or even bigger – than Christmas. In Spain, children leave out drinks for the wise men and food and water for the wise men’s camels. In many Latin American countries, children leave their shoes outside and find presents in them the next morning. Some Russians, who celebrate Epiphany on January 19th, swim in icy water. My children did not find presents in their shoes this morning, and I certainly don’t plan on jumping in my cold pond today (or, in solidarity with the Russians, on January 19th).
However, an easy practice we can do on Epiphany is to conduct a house blessing. There is a centuries-old Christian tradition called “chalking the doors,” which involves taking chalk and writing a formula above the front door. This year, we would write this:
20 + C + M + B + 19
As Friar Mike Marsh notes on his website, Interrupting the Silence, “The letters C, M, and B have two meanings. They are the initials of the traditional names of the three magi: Caspar, Melchior, and Balthazar. They also abbreviate the Latin words Christus mansionem benedicat, ‘May Christ bless this house.’ The ‘+’ signs represent the cross and 2019 is the year.”
Friar Mike also includes a prayer you could say for a house blessing, or of course you could make up your own.
We plan on chalking our door and praying a prayer of blessing over our house later today. On this day that we celebrate the Incarnation, the idea that God is here among us, it seems fitting to invite Christ into our homes to bless and dwell among us.
May Christ bless your home, as well.