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January 06, 2004

Twelth Night

Well, its Twelth Night and I trust you have all packed away your Christmas decorations for another year? If not the Little Folk may bring you bad luck when they visit at midnight to check!

But why "Twelth Night" and what has this to do with Christmas or anything else?

Twelth Night occurs on the night of the Feast of the Epiphany - the fourth major Feast falling within the Christmas "Octave - which also marks the arrival and departure of the Magi in Bethlehem. The decorations should be down in deference to the fact that the Magi "returned home another way" and the Holy Family fled Bethlehem to Egypt to escape the slaughter of the Innocents following Herod's discovery that the Magi had left.

The "Twelve days of Christmas" include four other "Feasts" including St Stephen, Holy Innocents, St John the Evangelist and the Epiphany. Like all major feasts Christmas is kept with an "Octave", and the four additional "feast" days extend this to twelve.

But the Epiphany itself is important for another reason - one which the Ortodox Churches mark by celebrating Christmas with it. It marks the revealing of Christ to the non-Jewish world represented by the Magi. But you may ask, did it really happen?

The best evidence we have for this event having actually occured comes from the Jewish historian Josephus, who recorded that Herod the Great had ordered the killing of all male children between 2 and 4 years of age in Bethlehem, "the ancient City of David the King". He records that some 1,000 boy children were slaughtered by Herod's guards and the reason was simply that Herod had been told that a new heir to the throne of David had been born there.

This and the fact that a great conjunction of Mercury and Venus occured in 6 BC lends credence to the story of the slaughter and the story of the star guiding wise men. The conjunction of Mercury and Venus occurs at exactly 480 year intervals and the light the combined planets throw is bright enough to cause shadows in the pre-dawn. The last one occurred in 1913 and my Grandmother used to tell us how bright it was in the early morning.

The conjunction coupled with the triple entry of Jupiter into the zodiac sign of Leo in the same year was interpretted by Chaldean astrologers as meaning the birth of a new heir to the throne of Israel/Judah. It was probably their representatives who set out to find him. This was not unusual, such visits are recorded in Rome for the birth of Augustus Caesar and of one or two Pharaohs.

So, in effect, we have corroboration of the Gospel stories regarding the star, the visit of the Magi and the subsequent slaying of the innocents.

Epiphany marks the first occassion when Christ is revealed to the world and the world acknowledges him. It is also the first of many signs that he has come to all the world and not to a select few.

Happy Epiphany one and all. May the peace of the Christ child be with you and yours in the year ahead.

Posted by The Gray Monk at January 6, 2004 11:54 PM