Happy Christmas, Happy Epiphany

Epiphany display, Saint John's Abbey Church, Collegeville.
Epiphany display, Saint John’s Abbey Church, Collegeville.

A reader wrote in recently in response to Fr. Anthony’s post on the season of Christmas, in which he asked how folks were acknowledging Christmas and Epiphany, leading up to the Baptism of the Lord. The reader passed along the following text they came across, tied to the celebration of Epiphany, noting that they begin the celebration of Epiphany on 6 January and continue until the following Sunday.

An account of a nativity play in a black township in South Africa.

The opening scenes were along the usual lines. After a hectic day the parish priest, Fr Gerard Fitzsimons, had been reluctant to attend. He takes up the story:

In Act 2 when I saw three figures approaching, I immediately thought that they were the Wise Men from the East, but no, the Wise Men had come and gone – I could see their gifts near the Crib.

These new visitors were three strange characters: One was dressed in rags and hobbled along with the aid of a stick. The second was naked except for a tattered pair of shorts and was bound in chains. The third was the most weird. He had a whitened face, wore an unkempt grey wig and an Afro shirt. They were certainly no wise men or kings.

As they approached, the chorus of men and women cried out, “Close the door, Joseph, they are thieves and vagabonds coming to steal all we have”. But Joseph said, “Everybody has a right to this Child, the poor, the rich, the sad, the happy, the trustworthy, the untrustworthy. We cannot keep this Child for ourselves alone. Let them enter”.

The men entered and stood staring at the Child. Joseph picked up the gifts the wise men had left earlier. To the first he said, “You are poor; take this gold and buy yourselves some food, clothes and a place to sleep. I have a trade. We will not go hungry. We do not need it.”

To the second he said, “You are in chains and I don’t know how to release you. Take this myrrh, it will help to heal your wounds and the chaffing on your wrists and ankles”.

To the third he said, “I don’t know the source of your mental anguish but take this frankincense. Perhaps the perfume will sooth your troubled spirit”.

The chorus again cried out, “Look what Joseph is doing! He has given away everything that was meant for the child. He has no right to do that.”

Then the first man addressed Joseph, “Do not give me this gift. Look at me. Anyone who finds me with this gold will think I have stolen it.”

The second man said, “Do not give me this ointment, I am used to these chains. I am strong because of them. Keep it for this Child because one day he will wear our chains”.

The third man said, “I am lost. I have no faith at all. In the country of the mind I have lost contact with God. Will this incense cure my doubts? Incense will never bring back the God I have lost”.

Then the three men turned and they addressed the Child. “Little Child, you are not from the country of Gold and frankincense. You belong to the country of want and disease and doubt. You belong to our world. We want to share these things with you”.

The first, taking off his ragged shirt said, “Take these rags. One day you will need them when they tear your garments and you walk naked.”

The second man said, “I put my chains at your side. One day you will be led out in chains, but on that day you will undo the chains of many people”.

The third man said, “I can only bow before you. Take all my doubts, my depression, my loss of faith in God and man. I am not able to carry them alone. They are unbearably heavy. Let us share them. When you grow up you will take them all and bring them before the throne of God.”

The three men then walked back out into the night. But the darkness was different. Something had happened in the stable. Their pain was still there, but now they were noticing the stars. There had been a kind of epiphany. Their way back was different.

As the Baptism of the Lord draws near, we hope that this has been a most holy season for you and yours — a time of sharing, a season of light and transformation.


  1. This is a most wonderful reflection. Thank you so much for sharing it with us. I had no idea where the story was going and then it just sort of smacks you in the head. It is a much needed reminder that God’s greatest gift is for everyone… all of us, and all of them. He comes to share in our humanity so that we might share in his divinity.

  2. This reflection brought tears to my eyes. Whoever created this story entered into the truth and spoke from within the heart of the Christian story. What a marvelous exchange of gifts!

  3. Very powerful and moving! The fact that it comes from a South African township gives it much additional weight.

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