We are well rehearsed in the most of the details the birth of Jesus or at least the ones that would appear in a Nativity play. In this familiar scene the infant Jesus is softly glowing and surrounded by his mother Mary and Joseph. There are sheep, shepherds, and gentle barnyard animals adoring the baby. Angels fill the night sky with song. And the wise men arrive from one side of the stage draped in gold lamé and carrying three ornate gifts for the baby Jesus. It’s a lovely Christmas Eve tableau but incomplete when we look to the full account of the Incarnation in scripture.
There are fewer donkeys and camels in the Gospel accounts of Jesus’ birth (actually, none at all) and more tension, peril, and politics than the traditional narrative about a peaceful baby sleeping in a manger. Matthew 2 offers a detailed account of the wise men traveling from the East who arrive in the court of King Herod looking for a great king whose birth is signaled to the whole world by a star in the sky. This is the rest of the Christmas story and the way the we end our Christmas celebration on the church calendar.
Tomorrow, January 6, is the Feast of the Epiphany and the end of the 12-day Christmas season. We celebrate the arrival of the wise men to worship Jesus and all that it means for us and our Christian brothers and sisters all around the world. The word epiphany means a sudden revelation, in this case we celebrate that the whole world saw the manifestation of God in the person of Jesus. Christ’s coming could have been a small localized event, celebrated by only a few Jewish shepherds in Judea but, as God would have it, he lit up the sky, drawing people from nations far away, and causing an international incident.
The prophet Isaiah prophesied about the Messiah as a light to the whole world and a fulfillment of God’s calling on the people of Israel. Nations shall come to your light, and kings to the brightness of your dawn. (Isa. 60:3) This is the good news to all of us who are not Jewish but have been drawn by Jesus and made part of the family of God. Celebrate that you you have seen the Light of the World, the true king of all people. And end your Christmas celebration for the year asking that God would shine through you so that everyone you meet knows that God is still seeking and drawing each person to himself through Jesus.