For most Americans, Christmas ends on December 26. For those who have traditionally observed the 12 days of Christmas, the celebration begins on December 25th and ends on January 6. The Feast of the Epiphany is often overlooked as most Americans think that the Wise Men showed up on the same night Jesus was born. Careful study of the New Testament writings tells us otherwise.
Matthew's Gospel reveals that the Star of Bethlehem began to shine on the night Jesus was born and those for whom it was intended as a Guiding Light were hundreds of miles away from that small burg. Tradition tells us that there were Wise Men from the East -- we are not really sure from what countries they hailed or how many actually made up the splendid caravan -- but their journey toward Bethlehem was slow and time consuming. Again the text of St. Matthew tells us that Mary and Joseph were no longer lodging in the stable at the inn, but had taken up residence in a house in Bethlehem. Herod the King studied the time line carefully and ordered male babies of about 2 years of age to be slaughtered in order to destroy this child who could potentially claim Herod's throne. So we know that Jesus was no longer a newborn when the Magi appeared at the home Joseph and Mary had made. They were now married and living as a small family, probably supported by Joseph's craft of carpentery.
The Christmas story doesn't end even with the appearance of the Wise Men. After they presented their gifts, expensive gifts usually only given a powerful person or royal heir, the Wise Men were warned in a dream from God that Herod was seeking the life of the Child. Again, the Holy Family was on the move, running for their lives away from the influence and powerful hand of Herod. Their ultimate destination was Egypt, a land where they could become faceless and anonymous, supported by Joseph's skills and many believe also by the gold they had received from the Magi. They resided there until Herod's death, because only then were could they safely return to their previous hometown in Nazareth.
From the very beginning, Jesus' earthly sojourn was fraught with danger and distress -- from the possible stoning of Mary as an adultress by her neighbors, to the hazardous journey to Bethlehem during her labor, and the realization that the life of her Child was in mortal danger. Yet Christians believe that the power of the Most High in the Person of the Holy Spirit was overshadowing the young Jesus to protect and insure that the purpose for which he came to earth would ultimately be fulfilled.
And now Father, send us out to do the work you have given us to do, to love and serve you as faithful witness of Christ our Lord. To him, to you, and to the Holy Spirit, be honor and glory, now and forever, Amen.