Summary: What must Mary have thought when she first opened the door and found a group of Iranian astrologers, there to celebrate the birth of her son? These characters seem so inappropriate in the Christmas narrative, but maybe that’s the point?
The Xmas season is over! We’ve wished each other a Merry Xmas AND a Happy New Year, and now the festive season is PAST. The holidays (for most of us) are over. The time for singing carols and wishing peace and goodwill to all is finished. The presents have been handed out. The cards have all been delivered. The champagne has been consumed. The New Year resolutions have all been made. The decorations are all coming down. The trees have been dismantled. The metal ones have been repacked and the wooden ones are being repulped - all ready for next year. The decorations have come off the walls. The checkout chicks are no longer wearing the plush red hats as they process your groceries, and they are processing those groceries with a little less cheer. Santa is noticeably absent.
In the tradition of the church there are 12 days of Christmas, being the 12 days after Christmas, and this week we struck that 12th day, which means that we have reached Epiphany - the celebration of the coming of the wise men who follow the star to Bethlehem to find Jesus. This means that, ecclesiastically speaking, we are really at the climax of our Christmas season, despite the fact that this is not how our department stores interpret it. There everything seems to be coming down even faster than it went up.
I note that my household stands in dogmatic opposition to this trend. Our wreath is still on the door, our tree is still up, and there is still Christmas pud in the fridge! This is our way of making a stand and bringing our family properly into sync with the ecclesiastical calendar (either that or it’s just laziness).
Either way, I do find it frankly disappointing that Christmas has to die so quickly after December 25. Santa surely doesn’t have to disappear so quickly? It’s not a fixed part of the mythology, as far as I know, that as soon as Santa drops off the last present, he has to high tail it back to the North Pole, without even resting the reindeer? Perhaps he could just hang around the stores for another week or so asking kids: "how did you like the presents? Did I get it right this year?" That would certainly put an end to the sort of problems you hear about, where the kid’s first encounter with Santa includes a solid kick in the shins, with an accompanying "that’s for last year, you hopeless bastard!" No ... catch the kid while he’s still full of Christmas cheer and in a good mood, and maybe we can all make a smoother transition into the next Christmas period.
But that’s not the way we do it. No. The presents have all been bought. The money has been made. The Santa’s have played their role, and there is nothing left for them to do. And so they vanish from sight.
The other group that normally vanishes from sight at about this time of year are the extras who fill the pews on Christmas day. ’C&E’s’ we call them - ’Christmas & Easters’. We had a decent number this year! Mind you, they never put much in the offertory plate though, do they? Perhaps it’s the way I sneer at them at communion and farewell them with a "see ya’ll next year!"
No, I don’t really do that. Indeed, I quite frankly enjoy anticipating who might be joining us this year? And there are always a few surprises. The converse is also true, of course - that by the time we reach Epiphany, there are generally no surprises as to who turns up to church on the Sunday. It’s just us really serious church-goers - just us, the true believers, and the baby Jesus - our baby Jesus!
Yes, the rest of Australia might pay Him some sort of well-intentioned homage at Christmas time, when the tinsel is out and carols are playing and the booze is flowing freely. But we know who will be left at the little Nativity scene after all the singing dies down, after the angels go back into heaven, the shepherds return to their fields, and the little drummer boy goes back to his band - just Mary, Joseph, the baby Jesus, and US ... and the three wise men of course.
Of course they’re not technically a part of the nativity scene as such, but we like to include them there anyway. My little cardboard nativity scene I had as a child - that had the three wise men in it, right alongside the shepherds and the animals, but strictly speaking they shouldn’t be there. The wise men came later - probably about a year later - by which time we assume the family had moved beyond the stable. The normal estimates are that the baby Jesus was between six and twenty months old when the wise men appeared on the scene - hence Herod’s targetting of all children two years old and under.