In the time of King Herod, after Jesus was born in Bethlehem of Judea, wise men from the East came to Jerusalem, asking, "Where is the child who has been born king of the Jews? For we observed his star at its rising, and have come to pay him homage." When King Herod heard this, he was frightened, and all Jerusalem with him; and calling together all the chief priests and scribes of the people, he inquired of them where the Messiah was to be born. They told him, "In Bethlehem of Judea; for so it has been written by the prophet: 'And you, Bethlehem, in the land of Judah, are by no means least among the rulers of Judah; for from you shall come a ruler who is to shepherd my people Israel.'" Then Herod secretly called for the wise men and learned from them the exact time when the star appeared. Then he sent them to Bethlehem, saying, "Go and search diligently for the child; and when you have found him, bring me word so that I may also go and pay him homage." When they had heard the king, they set out; and there, ahead of them, went the star they had seen at its rising, until it stopped over the place where the child was. When they saw that the star had stopped, they were overwhelmed with joy. On entering the house, they saw the child with Mary his mother; and they knelt down and paid him homage. Then, opening their treasure chests, they offered him gifts of gold, frankincense, and myrrh. And having been warned in a dream not to return to Herod, they left for their own country by another road.
And so, a new year, and a new decade, have begun. This first Sunday of 2020 also happens to be Epiphany Sunday, when we celebrate the visit of the magi to the Christ child. I thought it would be fun, at this time of new beginnings, to share what might become a new tradition for you and your loved ones to celebrate this time of year. It's one I hope to celebrate when I have a home of my own again someday!
In many places around the world, including my soon to be new home of Great Britain, there is a tradition of Epiphany Blessing also known as Chalking the Door. The service is a short liturgy which involves marking the doorway to a home or workplace with sacred symbols and asking God's blessing on all those who will live, work, or visit in this space in the coming year. The markings are made with chalk so that they do not permanently mar the dwelling. Whilst the markings fade throughout the year people can see them and be reminded of the ceremony, even as the way is made clear for a new ceremony and a new blessing in the next year.
Though Scripture never tells us the names of the magi who visit Jesus (nor, in fact, how many there actually were) tradition holds that the three wise men were named Caspar, Melchior, and Balthazar. Thus, the letters CMB are used during the chalking ceremony. Some have suggested that CMB might also stand for "Christus Mansionem Benedicat" which means "Christ bless this dwelling." I like to think both are right. The inscription is usually made on the upper horizontal piece of the door frame. The letters are inscribed between the numbers of the year to come, such that for this year, the inscription would look like this: 20 CMB 20.
If you are interested in performing such a ritual in your own home, workplace, or wherever this year, you can find a liturgy to accompany you here. I have borrowed a prayer from that liturgy, below. Whatever you do to celebrate the new year, may Christ bring you blessings in the year to come!
O God, you once used a star to show to all the world that Jesus is your Son. May the light of that star that once guided wise men to honor his birth, now guide us to recognize him also, to know you by faith, and to see you in the epiphanies of the daily experiences of our lives.