Sunday, December 03, 2006

Today, December 3, is the First Sunday in Advent

EWTN has put together a pretty website explaining the Advent Season and traditions. Click on the links as your curiosity leads.

The Convergence Movement is bringing lots of Christians to a deeper appreciation for matters liturgical. Without making too fine a point of it, I simply note that Advent is for me the beginning of the Liturgical Year, even though there really is no beginning or end as it flows endlessly from season to season. As a former Baptist I really like the idea of a season officially dedicated to the anticipation of Christmas.

Only later did I learn that Christmas is more than that one day. It is yet another season leading to Epiphany, which centers on the arrival of the Wise Men.

Epiphany is normally celebrated on January 6, although it can be celebrated on the Sunday between January 2 and 8, as is done in the United States and many other countries. It may also combine the celebration of all three epiphanies ("showing forths") of Christ – His epiphany to the Magi at His birth, His epiphany to St. John at His baptism in the Jordan and His epiphany to the disciples and the opening of His public ministry by the miracle of Cana.

However, its primary significance is the closing of the Christmas season with the celebration of the visit of the Magi to the manger (Matthew 2:1-12). The Messiah is thus shown to have come to all people, not just the Jews. The three kings represent the three major races: Melchior, an old white man with a long white beard,
bearing the gift of gold for Christ’s royalty;
Caspar, young and of darker hue, carrying incenses for Christ’s divinity; and Balthasar, a black man, offering myrrh for Christ’s suffering and death. The names of the wise men are not given in the Bible, but were supplied by later story tellers to enrich the meaning and celebration of the Epiphany.

As we look at the traditional crèche displays including the Famous Three, let's not be too judgemental about belief systems. Everyone I know grew up believing that there were three Magi, even though Scripture has no indication of how many there were. Moreover, they didn't get there for the actual birth of Christ, but probably came along a year or more later. That's why Herod ordered the killing of not just infants but all children under the age of two. By the time he got word of the birth of what was seen as a threat to his monarchy it was a couple of years later.

It's easy to believe what we have been taught from childhood. Tough to let go of those stories and come to terms with newly-learned facts. But it can be done. And presented in the right way it doesn't hurt all that much.

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