Journeying from Advent to Baptism: Reflections on Epiphany, Magi, and Cultural Celebrations
We have moved from Advent to Christmas and the Christmas Season to the Epiphany and today to the Baptism of Jesus. Next Sunday we begin Ordinary Time, but until then, let us relish these past few days.
At Christmas, we observed the birth of Christ, the human birth of the Word incarnate by the Virgin Mary. Yesterday, as the Orthodox Church celebrated Christmas, we celebrated the mystery of the Epiphany. Epiphany is such a great word, meaning “to shine upon,” “to manifest,” or “to make known.” The Feast of the Epiphany celebrates the many ways that Christ made Himself known to the world, mainly the three events that manifested His mission and divinity: the visit from the Magi (Matthew 2:1-12), the Baptism of the Lord (Mark 1:9-11), and the miracle at Cana (John 2:1-11).
The Magi, representing three diverse nations, traveled to Bethlehem bearing the finest gifts. The spiritual leaders of the time refused to follow the Magi to Bethlehem and refused to acknowledge the miracles He performed or to admit that he was the promised Messiah and true Son of God. It is through these three Wise Men that Christ manifests Himself to all the people as light of all nations.
We can challenge ourselves to make the Magi our models – to follow them to Bethlehem and offer Christ all that we have and are.
In Mexico (and other Spanish speaking countries), Three Kings Day is celebrated with processions, Mass, and fiestas, including the beating open a piñata with a stick. The children prepare for the visit of the Three Kings by putting out their shoes and writing them a letter explaining how good they have been all year (sounds familiar, doesn’t it?). Families gather to drink Mexican hot chocolate (favorites of mine are Abuelita and Ibarra hot chocolate) and to eat the Rosca de Reyes, a cake shaped in an oval/circle, topped with dried fruits and a sugar glaze to represent the jewels in the crowns of the Kings. Inside the cake is baked a tiny plastic Baby Jesus. One tradition says that the recipient of the slice with the Baby in it is responsible for hosting a tamales party for family and friends on Candlemass Day, February 2. Another story behind the hidden Baby Jesus is that the dough represents the secrecy needed to protect the child from King Herod. I had the privilege to participate in a Three Kings Day party, complete with the procession of the Kings, the hot chocolate, the cake, and gifts given to the children at the party.
Today we celebrated the mystery of Christ’s baptism in the Jordan by St. John, concluding the Christmas Season. Together with the Lord’s birth and the Epiphany, we again encounter the truth of the Lord’s incarnation and manifestation as the Christ. Being baptized by John, like all other sinful mortals, was again proof of His love for us all. He has no sins to repent, yet on that day, He represented all the sinners of the world.
Lord, I thank You for Your humble act of baptism by which You opened the Heavens to all who are sinners. May I open my heart to the unfathomable grace of my own baptism each and every day and more fully live with You as a child of the Father, filled with the Holy Spirit. Jesus, I trust in You. Amen.