Grant struggled to sleep. He kept thinking about Marissa. He didn’t want to go back to his so called ‘real-life’ if meant losing her friendship.
Heaving a sight, Grant stared at the ceiling. “What have I learned in these twelve days – I don’t think I can go back.” He let his thoughts wander, inviting the Holy Spirit to guide him. “When I first awoke on Christmas morning transformed as a beggar, I hated my poverty – the destitution. I was the spirit of despair. My entire self-worth depended on worldly power and influence. I preferred hell as punishment to feeble trust in God. I rebuked salvation, desperate to return to the world. In losing my material wealth and status, I felt trapped in the abyss. Ironically, it took crashing down from my ivory tower, humbled and poor in spirit to recognize that true wealth and value is not rooted in possessions and worldly authority. True wealth is a currency of selfless love and piety. It took a reversal of the status quo to understand the beauty of humility and mercy. Spiritual wealth enriches by stirring a soul to serve and work for the benefit of others. It took the grace of God, the light of the Holy Trinity to step out of the darkness of the world. It took losing everything I valued to understand intrinsic value. My journey is a living epiphany, an awakening and recognition, that my former life, with all the luxury of the world, was a life of darkness, an unforgiving abyss. In humility I have found strength. In forgiveness, redemption. In love, a ceaseless sustaining flame. Light can overcome the deepest darkness. It took residing in the dregs of the world for the spirit of love to manifest within me and I will not be moved. Darkness may obscure my path; the light of love will guide me to safety.”
Readying for his last full day at Saint Jude’s before starting his new position, Grant carried a tinge of regret and fear. Saint Jude’s has been his safety net, a foundation for his weary spirit. He looked forward to serving as a foundation director, spreading love and mercy into the community, still his humanity left him with a certain dread. It is not easy to step into the great unknown, relying on faith in the chaos of a nebulous future. It took faith in God’s promise, the light of Christ’s example, and the sustaining presence of the Holy Spirit to guide Grant’s steps. As creatures of habit, it is so easy to revert to worry instead of trust. In the end worry only builds barriers and obstructs goals. Trust gives fortitude to endure and move forward against adversity.
Grant could not let go of his growing feelings for Marissa. The feelings ran deeper than passion and lust. Grant truly admired and cared for her as a person. He found himself daydreaming about a future together – marriage. “I am walking a thin tight rope. I cannot deny my feelings for Marissa. If I pursue this, I could ruin everything. I cannot risk losing her friendship and breaking that trust.”
January 5th marks the Twelfth Day of Christmas. It is a day of preparation for the feast of Epiphany on January 6th. Epiphany commemorates the visit of the Magi to adore the baby Jesus. It is the culmination of Christmastide. It celebrates the faith journey of recognizing Christ as the light of the world, baptizing us in ceaseless wonder and trust in Christ as the Messiah, as an advocate and redeemer, a light that overcomes the darkness of the world. The concept of epiphany resonates strongly with Grant. The past twelve days, he had journeyed from cynical from doubt to joyful faith. In grappling with suffering and pain he came to recognize the peace and love of Christ, and the true gifts of Christmas.
Each year Saint Jude’s Community Center hosts the ‘Twelfth Night Fair,’ a fun, family-oriented event, including games, food and a ‘Mystery Play’ performed by the center’s resident youth acting troupe. The night is capped off with a vespers service led by Father Mark in the Saint Jude’s Chapel.
“I enjoyed spending time with your family yesterday.” Grant told Marissa as they cut out paper lanterns shaped like stars. These cutouts are used in the Twelfth Night Ceremony of Lights, an event that symbolically guides ‘The Magi’ to the feast, as well as send out a signal of hope and love throughout the world, announcing Christ as Savior and King.
“Zeke and Joel are pestering me to invite you over for dinner. Sarah insists you come to her Valentine’s Day ballet.”
“Nothing would please me more.” Grant continuing to struggle with his emotions. “Of course, I would not want to impose.”
“Epiphany is one of my favorite times of the year. It reminds me of the fragility and beauty of life and the ceaseless light of love manifest in Christ. It is an active reminder to serve with compassion and mercy, allowing the light of Christ to work through me.” Marissa casually changed the subject, still conflicted about pursuing a romantic relationship with Grant. “Physics reveals that our body is composed of stardust, molecules of galaxies and the light of sun. Our heart longs to search the heavens, to rise above the world. We are also composed of the earth, bound to this realm, tempted by decay and greed. We battle between our lofty pride and humble steps; death is of the world. It takes faith to realize the true nature of stardust. It isn’t about self-glory, rather acting in selfless light to blast out the darkness of the world. It is a reminder that God created us, yet we are humbled, fallen creatures of darkness, hungry for his life-giving light.”
“We went on camping trips as a kid, into the depths of the Cascades. In the darkness of night, I found both solace and fear. Each rustle of the leaves a potential threat. The wind never such a formidable foe as on the rocky precipice, resting in darkness. The sunrise, it filled you with an unquenchable peace. You could only rest in the majesty of creation, the glow of the sun, realizing the glory of life and the meekness of a human steps. I longed to climb above those mountains to prove my superiority. Now I simply rest in light between the shadow, in admiration and trepidation.” Grant paused. “I won’t deny it is a struggle. It takes being blinded by the light, to even acknowledge its existence, even then we are so caught up in searching for the extraordinary, and we fail to acknowledge the extraordinary in the ordinary, God’s revelation of heaven here on earth.”
“The Star of Bethlehem, a wondrous, miraculous event, of light piercing the darkness. The star so bright that it guided the Magi hundreds of miles to seek out the prophecy of Christ’s birth. The star guided them, still it took trust and active faith to follow the star’s light. Trust is an act of faith, a risk.” Marissa mulled. “My dad always said you cannot see the stars without darkness. We often forget to look for stars in the darkness, yet even the dimmest star rising breaks darkness, and guides us by its position in the sky. The North Star isn’t the brightest star, still it can guide the lost. It seems simple, yet how awesome is that wonder that God created a world where though our sin might fester, light exists and is always present, even in the flicker of a distant flame of a star.”
Working with the new class of Labre Residents, Grant spent most of the day setting up for the Twelfth Night Fair. The carnival includes twelve activity booths each focusing on a different spiritual gift of Christmas. Fair goers can try their luck in relay games, including camel races, pin the tail of the donkey and the charity dunk. Booths serve Epiphany themed foods, including King’s Cake, Piparakakku, fish and challah bread.
The festivities kicked off at four o’clock, with the carnival booths and relay games opening to foster children and kids in need. The group of 100 kids, aging 3-18 had the opportunity to do arts and crafts and leave their shoes out of the Magi to leave trinkets of gold (chocolate), socks, pencils and even gift cards for the teens. The gifts are small, thoughtful party favors, meant to spread the Christmas spirit. The kids also learned about Epiphany traditions from around the world.
“In many cultures Christmas gifts are exchanged on Twelfth Night or Epiphany. The history of exchanging gifts in Christmastide is rooted in the tradition of the Magi presenting the baby Jesus with gifts. The act of giving and service is an act of love. Epiphany is a recognition of Jesus as the son of God, fully human and fully divine. Jesus sacrificed himself for our salvation. Like the Star of Bethlehem, that led the Magi, Christ is the light of the world. The true gift of Christmas is Christ, manifest in his love.” Noelle addressed the kids. “Tonight, after the Feast of Twelfth Night we will light the star lanterns to guide the Magi.”
“Will we see the wise men?”
“Yes, there will be a visit from the Magi.” The ‘magi’ making their appearance during the theatre troupe’s original production of ‘O Gracious Star.’
“How come there are no wise women? It is insulting.” An astute seven-year-old girl demanded.
“Mary, the mother of Jesus is very wise and kind. Many Biblical saints in Hebrew scriptures and The New Testament are women.”
Noelle recounted the traditions of King’s Cake and Piparakakku.
“In Finland they bake a shortbread cookie for Epiphany. You throw it onto the plate if it breaks into three pieces, you silently make a wish. Luckily for you Saint Nicholas baked these cookies, so you don’t have to break them. Just make a wish and enjoy this sweet treat.”
“These cookies are delicious.” Noelle got the kid’s seal of approval.
“To celebrate the arrival of the Magi, who tradition holds as kings, many cultures bake a King’s Cake. Baked inside the cake are trinkets. The person who receives a bean or a trinket of the baby Jesus in their cake is named ‘King’ or ‘Queen’ of the party. In France the Galette des Rois is a puff pastry, while in England it is a fruitcake and in Latin America it is a thicker cake customized by region, known as the Rosca de Reyes. In Portugal it is a rich fruitcake, Bolo Rei. In Louisiana, the King’s Cake is eaten on Epiphany to symbolize a period of carnival before lent. Chef Buddy has baked Rosca Cupcakes, each with a trinket representing one of the twelve gifts of Christmas: Love, Joy, Peace, Patience, Kindness, Goodness, Self-Control, Humility, Grace, Faith, Hope and Wisdom.”
The carnival opened to the public at five o’clock. Hundreds filled the Grand Hall and gymnasium to partake in the festivities. Grant volunteered at the ‘Love’ booth, where kids of all ages could design ‘Star of Hope’ cards to be sent with ‘love’ to area nursing homes. Kids could also design magnets and buttons, featuring inspirational quote about Agape Love: ‘No one has ever become poor by giving – Anne Frank,’ ‘Character is how you treat those who can do nothing for you,’ and ‘Love drives out fear.’
At seven o’clock, 100-star lanterns were illuminated tothe darkness. Father Mark said an epiphany blessing, to herald Christ’s birth and eternal light.
“Because in the mystery of the Word made flesh, though hast caused a new light to shine in our hearts, to give the knowledge of thy glory in the face of thy Son Jesus Christ our Lord. O God, who by the leading of the star didst manifest thy only begotten Son to the peoples of the earth: Lead us, who know thee now by faith, to thy presence, where we may behold thy glory face to face; through the same Jesus Christ our Lord, who liveth and reigneth with thee and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever. Amen.”
The Magi entered the Great Hall, following the lantern stars to the nativity, setting the stage for the mystery play.
“Plays and skits are a traditional celebration of Twelfth Night. Shakespeare’s play ‘Twelfth Night,’ takes its name because it was performed for Epiphany celebrations. Tonight, our talented young actors will perform an original play recounting the story of the Magi.” Marissa introduced the troupe.
“O Gracious Star, arise, shine, for your light has come and the glory of the Lord has risen upon you. I am an Angel, come to tell you the story of the Twelfth Night. It was after Jesus’s birth in Bethlehem of Judea, wise men, Magi journeyed by the light of a star from the east to seek out the King of kings, the Messiah of prophecy. They set out in faith, following the light of the great star in search of the source of the light of the world. The star burned like a flame pointing the way to God, for unto the world a child is born, a light to enlighten the nations and bring love, peace, and grace to all peoples. Now in those days Herod was in power over Judea. He had anger in his heart and loved the world more than God. He hungered in greed and would do anything for power. In following the Star, the Magi passed through Jerusalem, where the encountered Herod. The Magi asked Herod…”
“Where is he who has been born of the Jews, the Messiah of prophecy? 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 Micah, ‘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.’”
“Herod, power mad set out to have the baby killed, told the Magi to return to him with news of the Messiah’s location, so that he may ‘pay him homage.’” The angel narrator continued. “They followed the star, rejoicing exceedingly with great joy. It came to rest over the place where the child was. And going into the house they saw the baby Jesus with Mary, his mother and they fell down and worshipped him. Then opening their treasures, they offered him gifts of gold, frankincense and myrrh.”
“Come let us adore him, for we have seen the light of love and the spirit of peace in Jesus, the Messiah.”
“O’ Gracious Light, signaled in the rising star, manifest in Jesus, pure brightness of the ever-living Father in heaven. O Jesus Christ, holy blessed.”
“For my eyes have seen the savior, a light to enlighten the nations. You are worthy at all times to be praised by happy voices, O Son of God, O Giver of life and glorified through all the worlds.” The Magi spoke, humbled and in adoration of Christ Child. “For we are merely kings of this earth, treading careful steps, you are God of heaven, King of kings. Yet in your mercy, you as Divine King, humble yourself to this decaying earth, with the light of hope, the eternal love and grace from the Father.”
“The Magi were warned in a dream not to return to Herod,” The Angel narrated, as the wise men acted out the scene. “They returned to the east professing and testifying the truth of Jesus, a servant king, a light for all the nations, counselor and redeemer.”
“Mary, an angel of the Lord appeared to me in a dream,” Joseph told Mary. “It said ‘Get up, take the child and his mother, and flee to Egypt, and remain there until I tell you; for Herod is about to search for the child, to destroy him.’”
“Joseph and Mary took the baby Jesus and fled by night to Egypt. They remained there until the death of Herod. This fulfilled what had been spoken by the Lord through the prophet Hosea.” The angel spoke with clarity. “Go in peace and serve the Lord, guided by the example of Christ. Bestowed with the gifts of love joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, self-control, humility, grace, faith, hope and wisdom.”
Saint Jude’s children’s choir sang two original hymns: ‘O Gracious Star’ and ‘Twelve Gifts.’
“Gracious light of a desolate night, deep and dark, they followed the star at its rising from a country far, they traveled, out of the wilderness, into the light of peace. Called to grace, they fell to their knees, in sweet adoration, recognition of mercy might, in the humble manager, they found the brightest light, the truth path to salvation, in Jesus Christ. Gifts of gold, frankincense, and myrrh to show their praise for the baby Jesus. The true gifts they received, ceaseless love and a path to redemption. The Magi traveled the world spreading the truth, the light has come, bright enough to dissolve the night. Christ is born…”
“A man of midnight, he wandered in the darkness, lost his sight, blind to life and love he abhorred. Midnight is the dark abyss, yet it builds a bridge to dawn. Signals morning’s shift, to stir the lost on their journey home. Christ called this sinner out by love’s redemption song. On a Christmas Eve, Saint Nicholas appeared before the bitter man by order of the Christ the King, bringing the Twelve Gifts of Christmas. That man brought through the wilderness, a life without belief, stubborn, he struggled in poverty and hate, until love brought him to his knees. Twelve gifts of Christmas, love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, self-control, humility, grace, faith, hope and wisdom. The man rebelled, swore, and forsook Christmas, yet in his blindness, he saw a light, a guiding star. He learned through hardship, the gifts of love, grace was given…Twelve gifts of Christmas…”
As the children sung, ‘Twelve Gifts,’ Grant realized the song was about his journey. “Saint Nicholas promised that I would be bestowed with the Twelve Gifts of Christmas…I could not comprehend the gifts until I learned through suffering. It took being loved to love and lack to understand joy, peace cannot come from the world, only love can yield peace eternal, patience is born of love and trust, kindness and goodness are fruits of love and self-control is a recognition of selfish desire, and its detrimental effect, you are able to find self-control out of patience and peace. Humility is the greatest lesson, it taught me to submit to love and accept grace, and to realize life is more than greed and power. Faith, the trust to endure and hope is trusting that faith will be realized, and light always overcomes darkness, wisdom the discernment to lean on God’s understanding…”
The Star of Bethlehem, a handmade twelve-point star, hanging from the ceiling, began to glow with a fire brighter than the sun. Grant quickly realized no one else noticed the transformation of the star except him. The light so intense, Grant fell to his knees. Miraculously Grant could gaze at the powerful light without squinting, his eyes remaining wide open, able to perceive the presence of peace in the light.
In this wonder and awe, Grant found his surroundings dissolving, the plain of existence collapsing, only the distant sound of hymns remaining.
“Where am I,” Grant walked in the ethereal plain of light.
“In the light you find love. Among the stars greatest and humility, revelation of a divine creator and hope of reconciliation by grace.” Saint Nicholas appears, robed in a red garment and bearing a cross.
“What is going on?” Grant confused.
“On Christmas Eve, by order of Christ, I visited you by the light of the Star of Bethlehem, to intercede with hope and love, offering the Twelve Gifts of Christmas. Your heart was lost and your sight blind, you could not receive the gifts without first preparing room in your heart, soul, and mind. It took humility, life as a beggar for you to recognize your faults and learn to trust in love and accept the gifts bestowed on you. You actively learned the lessons of Christmas, by your own volition, your choice to listen and hear God’s call to service and humble yourself to grace. Though heaven guided your steps with a guiding light, your choice to walk forward and learn from this journey. It took your active reliance on God to transform from a darkened soul to a man filled with light. Though heaven placed you in a circumstance of poverty, it took your opening your heart and mind to see wealth in poverty and understand the wealth of the world decays and rots, the wealth of the spirit is eternal. It took experiencing suffering to understand compassion and it took being poor to understand spirit of faith worth more than the gold of the world.”
“Twelve lessons,” Grant recognized. “Love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, self-control, humility, grace, faith, hope and wisdom…”
“I have been ordered to send you back.” St. Nicholas informed, holding his staff as a guidepost.
“Back? Please don’t send me back to that life. It was a horrible, deplorable existence.”
“Have you learned so little? The life you had wasn’t bad, it was the way you lived your life, filled with greed and anger. As head of a corporation, you have it in your authority to act with compassion. All authority you had is a blessing from God and it is your calling to serve others. You are commissioned to take these lessons and actively serve as a steward. Using the tools to fulfill God’s purpose in your life, not your selfish desire.”
“Tell me what to do and I will do it.” Grant averred.
“Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength. You shall love the neighbor as yourself. In this lies the cornerstone of faith and the foundation of truth. Trust in the Holy Spirit to guide you and actively seek to apply the lessons of love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, self-control, humility, grace, faith, hope and wisdom. When you are lost, look not inward at your own flesh, but to the light of Christ, the anchor of the soul and compass of life. Remember these gifts…” Saint Nicholas’s voice faded away and Grant found himself increasingly tired. His grasp on reality and dreams merging as one, until he fell into a state of unconsciousness.