I’m hiding something in my pocket as a visual aid for what I have to say. It’s only small, and you may find it rather surprising, but it’s particularly apt for today: the twelfth and final day of Christmas and the Eve of Epiphany. Epiphany, remember, is when we remember the Three Wise Men and their gifts, and when we celebrate the truth that Jesus is God in human form.
I'll reveal my secret object in a minute or two, but first let me run through three things that you may wrongly be expecting me to bring out.
Firstly, I won’t be holding up a lump of gold. Of course, that would have been a great visual aid. Gold was and still is the gift of kings. And when the Wise Men held out their gift of gold to Baby Jesus, they were saying something very special: “However tiny you are, and however wrong a place this filthy stable is for you to be, you are a true king, and you are worthy to receive this gift of kings.”
Second, I’m not carrying any myrrh. That too would have been a brilliant visual aid and a fragrant one as well. Myrrh is an aromatic potion that was used to prevent the spread of infection and mask the smell of death and decay. And by presenting Jesus with myrrh they were symbolically anointing him for death and burial.
And finally, it’s not frankincense. That would have been another great visual aid, because for thousands of years and in many different cultures across the globe, incense has been the traditional offering to a deity. And in presenting the infant king with such a gift, the Wise Men were saying, “You are are not just a king; you are God himself come to earth in human form.”
So, if it’s not gold, myrrh or frankincense, what have I got in my pockitses? Well, today we do celebrate the visit of the Wise Men. And tomorrow is Epiphany, when we celebrate the central truth of Christmas – the truth to which their gifts of gold, frankincense and myrrh bear witness: the truth that Jesus is God come to earth to live and die as one of us. But the real message comes down to this: The party’s over. It’s time to take down the decorations, vacuum up the pine needles, consign the turkey leftovers to the freezer or better still the dustbin, and let the Baby Jesus grow up into a man. And here at last is the little epiphany – the word means revelation – that I promised earlier
Speaker holds up a chocolate egg (I bought 15 Cadbury's Crème Eggs from the supermarket at 3 for £1).
A friend of mine has been complaining bitterly that Easter eggs are already in some of the shops. Actually, I think that’s quite helpful symbolism. Of course, there’s nothing exclusively Christian about chocolate eggs, but they do symbolise new life. And they do help us remember that once Christmas is over, Easter is (theologically as well as on the calendar) just around the corner. And as Christmas makes way for Epiphany, this is the point where we have to leave our mental pictures of Baby Jesus behind and focus afresh on the grown-up God-Man who died to bring us new life.
There are enough of these in a bowl at the back for each of the children to take one, and perhaps a few left over for grown-ups. And as you eat them, please remember the truth they represent: that the Christmas story ends with Easter.