Christmas is a season of Twelve Days—and today is the Third Day of Christmas. When did the Wise Persons arrive in Bethlehem? Could it have been the Third Day? Was it the Fourth, Sixth, or the Eleventh Day, or even possibly a month or two after Christmas? Did the Shepherds hear the angel chorus on Christmas Eve (as the Baby was being born) or did the angels wait a while (giving Mary and Joseph some privacy and alone-time to savor their special moment) and announce the birth on the morning of the Third Day? I wonder?
Our Nativity crèche (olive wood figures purchased in Bethlehem in 1962) displays all the Christmas cast together. The Wise Persons and the Shepherds are gathered around Joseph, Mary and the Baby at the same time. Most nativity scenes and Christmas pageants do the same as if it all happened all at once, on one particular day, and then it was over.
We know the Wise Persons traveled far and we know that they first consulted with King Herod in Jerusalem before going on to Bethlehem. “They set out,” from Jerusalem, Matthew’s Gospel tells us, “at the king’s bidding and the star they had seen at its rising went ahead of them until it stopped above the place where the child lay.” When did they arrive? Was it Epiphany (January 6—the thirteenth day after Christmas) as Church tradition has it? Who knows?
Like Scrooge, in A Christmas Carol, and Howard Thurman in The Mood of Christmas, I am aware this morning that “Christmas is Yesterday, Christmas is Today, and Christmas is Tomorrow.” Always, Thurman tells me, “Christmas Is Waiting to Be Born….In you, in me, in all mankind.” It is clear to me this morning that to genuinely experience Christmas takes more than just one day! It takes more than Twelve Days. It takes more than Yesterday, Today and Tomorrow. Christmas is not a day, or a season marked on a calendar. Christmas is meant to be the Season of the Heart.
The tides flow out from the Inner Sea
They find their way to many shores
With gifts of remembrance, thoughts of love—
Though the world be weary and the days afraid
The heart renews its life and the mind takes hope
From the tides that flow from the Inner Sea
At Christmastime. (Howard Thurman)