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12 Jan 2014
posted by Canon Dakin on 15-01-2014

Here in England, in the 7th cent., a king of Northumbria married a princess from Kent.  He had received his faith from Lindisfarne, she from Rome. They found they were due to celebrate Easter on different dates. The difference was resolved in favour of Rome. On a much larger scale the Greeks and Latins were at variance about the date of Our Lord’s death. And this had implications for Christmas.  The convention was that a great man would leave the world on the anniversary of his coming into it. So, if you fixed the date of Our Lord’s death as March 25th, that day would also be the anniversary of  the Annunciation when Jesus came into our world and his birthday would be nine months later, December 25th.  But in the East they computed the date of Our Lord’s death a little differently - so for them his birthday was January 6th. As time went on East and West swopped feasts; we took on the Epiphany in addition to our Christmas whilst the Easterns added Christmas to their calendar.

The feast of Our Lord’s birthday in the East, January 6th, never lingered as we did on the details of the stable in Bethlehem with the visits of the shepherds and the kings, more important to them was the epiphany or manifestation we are remembering today - the voice at Jesus’ baptism: ‘You are my Son, the beloved’. They had a particular reason for bringing into prominence the flowing water of the Jordan. In the East it ws so importnt that the rains should come to cause the river Nile to flood and bring down a deposit of fresh earth on which to grow their crops. So if in the West our background to Christmas is light in our darkness, in the East it was the new life that comes through water.  We may think of Christmas in simple terms: the coming of God into the world as a little child, but it is a mystery so rich in meaning that we need to stretch it out. The pity is that the commercialisation of Christmas cuts short the time we should have to deepen our thinking.  In Catholic counries like Italy and Spain Christmas Day is only the beginning of a period that reaches its climax on the Epiphany when the children receive their presents. So this feast today of the baptism of Jesus is not the beginning of a new chapter; it is the essence of the Epiphany, the climax of Christmas. It is only tomorrow, not today, that we go back to ordinary time.   

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