January 6 is the Feast of the Epiphany, the day on which we remember the Magi who journeyed to find the infant Jesus – Matthew’s account suggests that he would have been around two years old by the time they arrived; hence a little distance from the shepherds who visited Jesus when he was hours old. If the shepherds represent Jesus’ own people, and also the marginalised, the presence of the Magi broadens the significance of the incarnation, to include the gentiles and also those with privilege: first the Jews, but then all; first the marginalised, but then all.
The Gospel account tells us very little about the Magi. We don’t know their names, where they came from, how many there were; we know they brought three kinds of gift – gold, incense, myrrh – but we don’t know in what volume. Their cameo has intrigued people’s imaginations for centuries, has become a gift-box in which to carry our own gifts to Jesus, and down the years many stories have been told, building into traditional or familiar doors through which we might enter-into the story ourselves.
Within European tradition, the Magi became three figures (working backward from three gifts), and were given the names Caspar, Melchior and Balthasar. No-one believes that these were their actual names; but then very often ‘famous’ people are ascribed nick-names and stories by others looking back – consider the myth of Honest Abe that grew from Abraham Lincoln – and there are also hints that God holds a name for us – our real name – in heaven.
Within European tradition, on the Feast of Epiphany Christians write C + M + B + the year (in this case, 2013), in chalk, on the door of their home. This code has a double-meaning. It stands for Caspar and Melchior and Balthasar, but also for Christus mansionem benedicat, or May Christ bless this home (the ‘+’ also doubles for ‘plus’ and for the cross). And until the chalk fades or is washed off, it is a daily reminder to seek and to dwell in and to share the blessings of Christ: his peace, his joy, his love, his provision, his companionship, his comfort, his generosity, his hospitality...