‘Why is the tree still up?’
‘Because it’s bad luck to take it down until Epiphany.’
‘It’s the end of Christmas.’
This conversation, or something like it, happened every Christmas in my early childhood. Our tree would sit in the living room for twelve extra days after Christmas, the wreath stayed on the door, the cards stayed hanging on the walls. It was strange quirk for my very non-religious parents to be such sticklers for this one old school church tradition.
Today I’m much more of the opinion that Epiphany is celebrated not really to protect us from bad luck but to help us transition from Christmas to the rest of the year; reshifting our gaze from our intense focus on the incarnation up to see the whole glorious person of Jesus and everything he did. At Epiphany we mark the day that the wise men came from distant lands to worship Jesus. They had come a long way, travelling for up to two years; now they have finally caught up with the Christmas story and we meet them as our own Christmas celebrations draw to a close.
The wise men read the stars and somehow knew more about Jesus’ identity than the Jews that Jesus was to be king of. Epiphany picks up on this theme of stars and light and illumination, of seeing the truth and knowing the truth and worshipping the truth. Epiphany is the day that says “YES!” to all the good news of the Christmas story. It’s the day that gives us space to join the dots and knit the pieces together, to see who Jesus really and truly is. It’s the day for seeing all the ways that Christmas shows us Jesus’ humanity and divinity. It’s the day for seeing all the ways that Jesus’ birth foreshadows his death and resurrection.
It’s the day for moving back into ordinary time.
May God bless you this year with a deep love for and knowledge of his Son. Thank you for celebrating with us.
St John the Evangelist’s Day
‘On the Third Day of Christmas my true love sent to me… Three French Hens!’
The odds are that today you are doing one of three things:
- Heading back to your shift work after two jam packed public holidays,
- Settling into a restful weekend as Christmas Day mania wears off, or
- Putting up some very large tents in the middle of a caravan park as your beach mission gets under way.
Whatever you are up to, we hope that you have an excellent third day of Christmas and that you get a chance to reflect and celebrate Jesus’ birth for us.
We hope that your feasting, resting and serving brings many different opportunities to glorify the Lord and grow in him. We hope that God’s people around the world take every opportunity possible this Christmas to share the good news of Jesus with friends and family. We hope that there are lots of warm and welcoming parties and feasts, where we get to receive the things that God has made with thankfulness and share with others. We hope you get some slow time too, sometime over the next twelve days, to sit quietly on your own or with friends, and marvel at the incarnation.
Our collection of resources to help you celebrate continues today with a fresh array of scripture, music and writing. Our first new Christmas poem is published today too: ‘The First Breath In’ by Joanna Hayes. Read the first known Christmas sermon (it’s not very long!) or unwind at the end of a full day to Bach’s Christmas Oratorio.
However you celebrate the First Day of Christmas, remember to share it with others. And please don’t limit that to social media – share your Christmas celebrations in person, face to face, with the people around you!
Is it my fault that the first eight days is basically thirty birds?
– Andy Bernard, The Office
We know the twelve days of Christmas like the back of our hand: turtle-doves and geese, milkmaids and lords, pipers and drummers and a pear tree. It’s a song we sing as Christmas approaches and, like all other Christmas songs, we are absolutely ready to stop singing it by the time we get to December 25.
Title page from the first known publication of “The 12 days of Christmas” in 1780.
This may come as a surprise to some of us: English-speaking people having been singing this song for centuries but we only started singing it before Christmas very recently! The First Day of Christmas is Christmas Day. It’s a song about the days passing from December 25 through to January 5.
This twelve day period, comprising Christmas Day, Boxing Day, New Year’s Day, the most important cricket matches and the most popular holiday time for Australian workers, this twelve day period is Christmas.
I’m not exactly sure when contemporary western society decided to change the Twelve Days of Christmas into the twelve days leading up to Christmas. My suspicion is it has a lot to do with the way that our retail sector depends on mad-shopping-rushes and the urgency of buying Christmas gifts at premium prices. It doesn’t do retailers much good if Christmas celebrations are dragged out over almost a fortnight after Christmas Day – we could wait to buy all our gifts in the Boxing Day sales! This year we are going to try and celebrate Christmas the old fashioned way – slowly, calmly and drawn out over two weeks. We are going to take a whole twelve days to reflect on the mystery and glory of Jesus’ incarnation; we are going to spend a whole twelve days celebrating his salvation.
Each year households around the world prepare wreaths for Advent. Some people fill their wreath with candles to light week by week; others hang them around their home. Our usual custom is to mark time during advent with a calendar rather than a wreath and candles, so we use our wreath to adorn our door in the lead up to Christmas.
Freshly made wreaths don’t seem to be very popular in Sydney. It makes sense in this climate. Keeping a floral arrangement out of water in the early summer heat, even for a couple of hours, leads to tragically quick wilting. However it’s an aesthetic we’ve decided to embrace as sign of this season of waiting. Flowers are beautiful but their glory is fleeting. We are waiting for the time that the Lord will return and free us from slavery to sin and death.
The grass withers, the flower fades;
but the word of our God will stand for ever.
So for the last couple of years we’ve been making wreaths out of hardy Australian natives. They look beautiful freshly picked, and… well, less beautiful but still kind of OK a month later when we walk through the door on Christmas Eve.
Come with us on our wreath-making adventure this year and learn how to make your own.
“Yes,” said Queen Lucy. “In our world too, a stable once had something inside it that was bigger than our whole world.”
– C.S. Lewis, The Last Battle