As with most great and storied traditions, we have no idea where the ancient practice of chalking doors with “holy graffiti” on the Feast of the Epiphany got its start. We can assume that the concept grows from the ancient roots of our Judeo-Christian heritage. In the Exodus, as the descendants of Abraham prepare for their final escape from Egypt, the LORD commanded them to mark their door with the blood of the Passover lamb as a sign for the Angel of the Lord to pass over their homes when it came to kill the firstborn of Egypt. Later, in Deuteronomy, this image of marking doorposts was used again. Moses is again instructing the people about how they might find favor with God, this time as they finally prepare to enter into the Promised Land of Cana. Moses gives the people what would become their foundational prayer, a mantra of sorts, that is still used by the Jewish faithful of today, “Hear, O Israel: The LORD is God, the LORD alone. You shall love the LORD you God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your might. Keep these words that I am commanding you today in your heart. Recite them to your children and talk about them when you are at home and when you are away, when you lie down and when you rise. Bind them as a sign on your hand, fix them as an emblem on your forehead, and write them on the doorposts of your house and on your gates.” (Deuteronomy 6:4-9, NRSV)
Tonight, as we gather to remember the coming of the Magi from the East to pay homage to the child born as king of Jews, we hear in their story the blessedness of hospitality. As guests in the home of Mary and Joseph, the wise men brought gifts of gold, frankincense, and myrrh, meant to be blessings to the holy family in the days to come. But as guests, the sages from the east were also surely blessed by Mary and Joseph. Hospitality was assumed in the ancient world. When a stranger entered your home, they were offered water to clean their feet, food to eat, and wine to drink. No matter how little you might have, you would bless your guests upon their arrival because you never knew when you might find yourself in need of a blessing along your own journey. The chalk that we bless tonight is meant to mark a sign and symbol of God’s blessing upon your homes, but also as a sign and symbol of God’s blessing upon all who will pass through those doors.
This double blessing is symbolized in the three letters, C, M, and B that make up the blessing. C, M, and B are the initials of the three names that tradition has given the Wise Men, Caspar, Melchior, and Balthazar, reminding us of the blessing that comes from welcoming guests into our homes. They also are the first letters in the Latin blessing, “Christus Mansionem Benedicat,” which means “May Christ bless this house,” as we ask God in this holy season to be present among us as God the Son was made manifest upon earth in his Incarnation. In this Epiphany Season, may you be blessed with a safe lodging. May you be a blessing to all who pass through your doors. And may this church be a blessing to all who pass by and through, shining as a beacon of God’s grace and love in a world that desperately needs it. Amen.