A Formula for Epiphany

20 + C + M + B + 18

It sounds like a mathematical equation, doesn’t it? In fact, this is a house blessing, one of many traditions in the Catholic Church, and one of the earliest memories I have of my family. I remember early trips to see my grandparents and arriving to their door and in stark white chalk, these symbols (the numbers were different) blazed against the dark wood grain of their front door. But for the uninitiated, like I once was, what does it actually mean?

Saturday, January 6th 2018 marked the Feast Day of the Epiphany, the time in the Church when we celebrate the arrival of the Three Magi to the manger, and their gifts for Mary, Joseph, and baby Jesus. The feast day, also known as Twelfth Night, was observed on Sunday and marks the close of the Christmas season and the return to Ordinary Time in the Church. This is why, for many Catholics (or for folks behind schedule), you may see the decorations and holiday lights lingering after the New Year.

The 20 and the 18 reference the current year (next year, it’ll be 20 + C+M+ B + 19) and the three letters represent the names of the three wise men: Caspar, Balthazar, and Melchior.

It seems almost counterintuitive that the Bible, which condemns astrology and all forms of divination, would remember and honor these foreign sages who believed that the Nativity Star was a sign in the heavens of the birth of a great ruler, and they came bearing gifts. But there is no question that the manner of gifts they brought was divinely inspired. Gold, a symbol of His kingship, and which I like to think was what Mary and Joseph used to supplement their income during their time in Egypt; frankincense, a symbol of His status as our High Priest; and myrrh, a symbol of His eventual death.

On the feast day of Epiphany, my husband and I received a piece of blessed chalk (now in fun, bold colors!) and said a prayer of blessing over our home (provided by our parish) that God would help us in this new year to remember the gift of His Light, Jesus, and nurture the gifts that He’s bestowed on each of us, to bring glory to His name, and to reach out to a hurting world.

As we struggle to find our way in the midst of the darkness and the Storm, may God’s light shine in our hearts and through us, the watchmen on the hill, so that we may be ready for His sudden coming.