The chapter of Jesus’s birth does need to have an ending. King Herod, of course, did not really want to find the King of the Jews in order to venerate him. Being an Roman governor over an occupied land, he wanted to squelch rebellions. When he heard rumors of Jewish groups rallying around some leader, it was time to put a stop to this. The Magi had a dream which instructed them to avoid King Herod when they left Judea. Mary & Joseph also had a dream which instructed them to leave. In our blowform Twelfth Night, the Magi decided that slumming in a local bar would be a place that King Herod would not look for them. Mary, Joseph, and Baby Jesus head off to Egypt.
For the past six weeks, we have been having some fun, and a few laughs, with an old tradition of re-enacting the birth of Jesus. The Lord of Misrule is also an old tradition in which the royalty and laborers would switch places during this season. Some will argue that the whole Christmas date has less to do with when Jesus might have been born and more to do with early Christian leaders co-opting Roman and pagan rituals from the winter solstice time. I’ll leave debaters to find no definitive answers to those questions.
Rather, I shall ask, what role does ritual have in our lives? Having been reared in the Baptist tradition, ritual may have seemed to be minimized in the worship experience and calendar. Our emphasis was not on memorializing Hebrew or Christian events, but on preaching salvation and enacting one’s commitment to the Way through the ritual of baptism of the convert (get it, baptism=Baptist). Every day was a day to talk about Jesus’ death and resurrection.
On the other hand, the Catholic, Anglican (aka Episcopal in the New World), and Orthodox (aka, we get all our Christmas gifts and Easter chocolate on sale because we observe those events a week after you other Christians…. no, really, a friend who is Orthodox told me this!), and even Lutherans (aka we really did not want to break from the Catholic church, we just were protesting the corruption of those Borgia and Medici Popes) follow a church calendar. Each day has a saint or other important person to remember at mass.
A parallel phenomenon happened during the Reformation. How the divergent denominations expressed beauty. Part of the rituals of the Catholic (et al.) church included multi-sensory experiences. The artistic images within the churches, through the architecture, sculpture, paintings, and stained glass windows created a visual environment in which the music and chanting occurred, all enveloped in the scent of the incense.
Protestant sects took much of this to be idolatry, thus destroyed many icons, which they viewed as distracting and distancing the congregation from God. Protestant church became visual blank slates on which the sound of congregational singing of hymns and preaching of the sermon could be attended to.
But, I view this division as a false dilemma. We do not need to choose between ritual and knowledge. We need both. Beauty and aesthetics needs a foundation of information and data to support it. Otherwise we are vulnerable to superstition and charismatic leaders, which last only as long as we attend to them. On the other hand, teaching needs repetition and emotional connection. Otherwise, we are vulnerable to being gullible to anyone with a persuasive though false, argument, or cynicism because of having been deceived before.
Wisdom is the bonding of knowledge and ritual.
So, join our Wise Men at the bar. Raise a glass to toast the new year. Go out into the world. Avoid King Herod and those nasty Roman soldiers on the way out.