I once knew a family that unpacked their nativity scene the day after Thanksgiving. They arranged all the pieces -- the holy family, the shepherds, the sheep, cows, manger and the baby -- carefully and arranged the figures on the living room mantel. The wise men were exiled to the den, which didn’t immediately make sense to me. I asked and the mother involved explained that the wise men figurines would make their way slowly, day by day, from the easternmost corner of the house and arrive at the manger on January 6, Epiphany. I was so impressed.
I knew nothing about the 12 days of Christmas or the feast of Epiphany, and her explanation has stayed with me all these years. I don’t do the same thing. Somehow I suspected that I would not remember to move the magi every day as they made their way toward Christmas. Probably for the same reason I never managed the elf-on-a-shelf that other families foster. That, and I have a lousy sense of direction. I cannot tell you now whether my house faces east or west, north or south, without imagining a map of Portland and trying to figure out where I’m sitting on it right this minute.
But even though, I didn’t observe the same tradition, I’ve learned a little about those wise men and what they have to do with Christmas and with Christians. And I think every season about the magi and their journey and that they arrived at the manger after many of us have taken down the trees and put away the nativity scene. The fir boughs on my mantel are crispy now and my tree is probably past its prime, but I won't take them down until after the feast of Epiphany. Until the wise men have had time to get there -- at least in my imagination. As many who have been reading this blog or my book know, I believe that the outsiders of the Bible -- the strangers within its pages -- have a lot to teach us about the strangers in our own lives.