God in Man Made Manifest
A number of years ago, I first came across the custom of blessing chalk on the Solemnity of the Epiphany. I had never seen or heard of it in my first decade of life. For those not familiar, the custom is for each family to gather at the entrance of their home and pray for God’s blessings upon them and upon all who enter under their roof during the new year. The head of the household takes chalk blessed on the Day of Epiphany and writes on the lintel over the main entrance to the house and perhaps over other entrances or doorways, “2 0 + C + M + B + 2 3” while pronouncing (if possible) in his best Latin, “Christus Mansiónem Benedícat,” meaning, “May Christ bless the house.” The letters “CMB” also stand for the traditional names of the three wise men: Sts. Caspar, Melchior, and Balthazar. The digits at each end are for the current year.
In many Eastern churches, the Feast of the Epiphany is celebrated with even more festivity than Christmas. The Epiphany, from the Greek word for “unveiling, revelation, manifestation,” recalls the visit of the three magi and the first revelation of the Christ Child to non-Jewish nations, whom the magi represent. Many Christians still exchange gifts on the Feast of the Epiphany since that’s when the magi brought their gifts of gold, frankincense, and myrrh.
Besides the visit of the magi, there are two other moments from the life of Jesus connected to this Great Feast: the Baptism of the Lord and the Wedding Feast at Cana. Jesus being baptized by John in the River Jordan is often considered the first clear revelation of God as a Trinity of Persons: the Father manifested in the voice from heaven, the Son Jesus standing in the river, and the Holy Spirit descending upon Him bodily like a dove. Unlike most other baptisms where the water is used by God to make the one being baptized holy, when Jesus was baptized, He actually made the waters holy. Some Christians still practice the Epiphany tradition of taking a dip in a freezing lake to recall the Lord’s Baptism and one’s own baptism. I wouldn’t necessarily recommend trying it around here.
The changing of water into wine at Cana is regarded as Christ’s first public miracle, the manifestation of His divine power. By the grace of the Lord’s Epiphany, may we always make Christ more manifest, better known throughout the world by our own words and actions.