Most everyone probably has their Christmas decorations down and packed away for next year. Even if you’re someone who believes Christmas is every day of the year - it is - sooner or later the the tree has to come down and the decorations go away.
And then there’s the 12 Days of Christmas Rule: there’s twelve days of Christmas, just like in the song, but it’s bad luck to leave decorations up past that.
So we took down all the decorations we put up at the church. Except one. We put up some fabric with lights behind it to look like a night sky and, in one corner, three large stars, one larger than the others. This will stay up for awhile because the 12 Days of Christmas end with Epiphany, the day we celebrate the arrival of the magi who followed the star to Jesus. Like I’ve said before, the story’s much bigger than one night or twelve days or even the four weeks of Advent. The season of Epiphany can be four to nine weeks, depending on when Easter is, because it extends to the beginning of Lent.
Epiphany means to “make aware” or a revealing or manifestation of something in a way that brings the awareness of it’s truth. The stories we hear about Jesus during Epiphany reveal who Jesus is, beginning with the magi following the star and revealing that the little child of poor Jewish parents in Roman-occupied Judea is the king that was promised. Epiphany includes stories revealing who Jesus is as an adult, his baptism, the calling of the first disciples and his early teaching and miracles. In the darkest days of January and February, it’s a season of enlightenment.
But it’s bigger than that. We might want to remember that every part of the Christmas story has a moment of revealing.
I like to think that when the angel revealed God’s plans to Mary, Mary might have said something like “wow, this is a big deal.” And the angel might have said “bigger than you can possibly imagine.”
When the angel went to Joseph in a dream and revealed that what Mary says is true, I wonder of Joseph woke up thinking “this is a big deal,” and the angel just said “bigger than you can possibly imagine.”
When the shepherds heard the news in spectacular fashion, they said “hey, let’s go to Bethlehem and see the baby, this is big news.” And, as they left, the angels probably said “bigger than you can possibly imagine.”
When the magi saw the star and followed it with gifts “fit for a king,” they don’t seem to have turned away when the the king revealed to them was not what they expected. They probably thought, “wow, this is so different than what we expected, it must be bigger than we thought.” Then angel who sent them home, away from Herod, probably said “bigger than you can possibly imagine.”
And when they’d gone, the angels, the shepherds and the magi, and all the fuss had died down, I bet the people around Mary and Joseph might have said to them, “wow, your kid must be a big deal.” And they would have said, “bigger than you can possibly imagine.”
For me, that’s the thing Epiphany most reveals: it’s bigger than we can possibly imagine. More than the characters and a charming story, love is bigger than we can possibly imagine. Love is what it’s about, and it’s bigger than we can possibly imagine.
Look at the magi for a moment. We might take away from the story that their appearance reveals Jesus as the promised king. But it reveals so much more.
Like that Jesus is for everyone. It wasn’t pharisees or rabbis, seers or wise advisors to the Judean king that saw the star, it was foreigners. They weren’t Jews, they weren’t local, they were from the mystical “east.” Maybe that’s because Jesus is for everyone.
Yet, Herod and his “chief priests and scribes,” didn’t see the star, though they knew the prophecy well enough to know where the magi should go. And they didn’t go with the magi. They didn’t go to Jesus. Maybe they were afraid that it was something bigger than them.
And what about Mary and Joseph? They’d had quite an experience with this miracle birth, a lowly place for having it, in a place far from home and visits from shepherds with strange stories and now this: strange people from far away knock at the door. If you were them, would you hide like Herod or open the door and embrace the possibility of something bigger? Perhaps something bigger than you could possibly imagine?