Preached at All Saints, King City, Ontario, Anglican Diocese of Toronto, Sunday, 2 January, 2022, the Feast of the Epiphany (transferred from 6 Jan).
Lections for Epiphany: Isaiah 60.1-6, Psalm 72.1-7,10-14, Ephesians 3.1-12, Matthew 2.1-12
“Where is the child who has been born king of the Jews? For we observed his star at its rising, and have come to pay him homage.” (Mt 2.2)
This Sunday is the last time in the season of Christmas when we make our way to visit the child Jesus in Bethlehem, and today we journey in the steps of the wandering Magi, those mysterious figures who “bearing gifts … traverse afar”.
Who were the Magi? A year ago I preached about how the Magi are included in Matthew’s nativity story because they point to Jesus. Like John the Baptist who we saw before Christmas, the Magi are included in the gospel because they point to Jesus. They recognize God’s acts of revelation, of God revealing God’s self in the star and in the babe in Bethlehem, and they respond to it. The Magi are thus an example for us, so that we are ready to recognize God in Christ and to respond with gratitude and adoration to our Saviour.
A year ago my sermon text was Ephesians 3.9-10, in which St. Paul tells us that the church has the same job as the Magi, to show the world the “wisdom” and love of God as we follow Jesus and show his love to others. Today I want to talk about another, and very old, way that you and your family can show the love of God to the world, using a piece of chalk and your front door.
Since the middle ages, Christians at Epiphany have customarily had a blessing said over their houses. In part this tradition remembers the journey of the Wise Men, but it also reflects the Christmas mystery of the Incarnation, when as St. John writes, “the Word became flesh and dwelled among us”. The faithful would ask Christ to visit and bless their own houses, in the form of a simple message or prayer written about the doorway. This custom has beenrecovered by many churches today, and I commend it to you this Epiphany.
Using a piece of chalk, write the following above the doorway of your house or apartment:
20 + C + M + B +22
Does that look like algebra to you? It’s actually quite simple. The “20” and “22” are the new year. The letters represent the traditional names of the Magi – Caspar, Melchior, and Balthasar – but also in Latin stand for “Christus mansion benedicat”, meaning “May Christ bless this house”. The three “+”s are not plus signs, but rather are crosses, their threefold number representing both the three crosses of Calvary and the number of the Trinity.
At the back of the church you’ll find some chalk, and a simple set of prayers which you and your family can say together after you write out the blessing prayer. You can wait until Thursday, Jan 6, the Feast of the Epiphany, to do this, or do it now.
As the Omicron variant of Covid seems everywhere, my hope is that this simple act of prayer and devotion will make your home feel safe and guarded by our Lord Jesus and the holy angels. It might also serve as a small act of witness to your neighbours. If someone asks you what this cryptic code means, you can explain it to them and even offer them your chalk!
May God bless and keep us all in the new year, and make our homes places of warmth, love, faith and kindness.