Is Christmas all packed away?
For those who follow the cultural Christmas season, it starts after Thanksgiving and ends by New Years’ Day.
Yet in Christian tradition, Christmas begins after four weeks of Advent and runs for 12 full days starting Christmas Day. Saturday is the 12th day, and Sunday is Epiphany, the day to remember the gifts brought by a group of scholars to the baby Jesus.
In Spain and in many Latin American countries, Christmas gifts are traditionally given on Epiphany.
Epiphany parades take place in some countries as a culmination of the Christmas season. In Tarpon Springs in Pinellas County, the Orthodox Christians have for 100 years celebrated Epiphany (or Theophany) with diving for a cross in Spring Bayou, in honor of the Baptism of Christ.
In Prague and the Czech Republic, there are Epiphany parades.
Epiphany means revelation, as in the revelation of God Incarnate as Jesus Christ. So as the new year begins, each of us might reflect on what has been revealed in the previous year, and our hopes for bringing the light of Christ into the new year, despite the fear that sometimes leaves us in the shadows.
Mary and Joseph were warned in a dream of the danger of Herod to their infant son, so they fled to Egypt. As we consider the plight of refugees and immigrants, we can reflect on their union with Christ at risk in his early life.
Let us consider how we might build a more hospitable, bright future for all God’s children.
As we reflect on the end of Christmas, sometimes called Little Christmas or Three Kings Day, it is helpful to consider what gifts remain after the tree has been removed. What gifts have you been given by God-with-us, Immanuel?
What gifts will you give to others in the coming year? Consider all the gifts that cannot be wrapped in bright paper, but which are even more valuable — gifts of patience and kindness, of gentleness and compassion, of generosity and the willingness to listen carefully.
These are gifts of faith, hope and love, which the world so desperately needs.
We may not be able to change the world, but we can offer gifts to the people nearest us, inspired by that first Christmas gift of gifts, who is described by the poet-chaplain Malcolm Guite in this way:
…O heart of heaven beating in the earth,
O tiny hope within our hopelessness,
Come to be born, to bear us to our birth,
To touch a dying world with new-made hands
And make these rags of time our swaddling bands.
The Rev. Elizabeth Deibert is the pastor at Peace Presbyterian Church, 12705 State Road 64, Lakewood Ranch. Faith Matters is a regular feature of Saturday’s Bradenton Herald, written by local clergy members.