Thursday, 5 January 2012

Twelfth Night

It's got to be my favourite Shakespeare play - mistaken identity, gender confusion, shipwreck, love, mirth, madness, and ultimately, melancholy ('With a hey ho, the wind and the rain...') All you ever want from a real human life. The traditional merry-making on Twelfth Night collides richly with the Christian tradition of Epiphany - the evening of 5 Jan being the 12th night after Christmas Day and the eve of the Feast of the Epiphany (6 Jan) when Christians ponder the significance of the visit of 'Magi from the East' to the Christ child. The didn't need Satnav - being astrologers they knew how to plot a course by the stars. After the dead end that was King Herod, the king they eventually found became the unlikely recipient of their gifts of gold, frankincense and myrrh. The Magi are not the domesticated crown-wearing 'kings' of Christmas cards, but strange Gentiles, outside of the traditionally Jewish people of God. They are mysterious, mystical even; their gifts to the newborn are costly, rare and, frankly, odd (imagine presenting your new godchild at her baptism with the gift of a shroud - that's the kind of thing myrrh, a burial ointment, suggests.) The '3 wise men' are a good reminder of the strangeness of faith, the endlessly wide embrace of the gospel and the sheer otherness of the divine. 
We're taking down the decorations tonight; I used to be glad to clear away the mess, now it just makes me sad, it feels so much like an ending. Or is it a beginning? In the visit of the Magi, a snapshot of the whole life, death and resurrection of the Messiah King, the one without beginning or end, is presented for us to feast on in wonder. Happy Twelfth Night.

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