The forest is still with snow. Rabbit tracks lead between the trees.
There’s a unique smell to fresh cut wood- unique even to each kind of wood. There are marks unique to the cutting tool: axe or saw? Powered or hand?
I run bare fingers over its marrow. Hand saw.
I breathe in. Pine.
With time and sun and rain, the sap no longer seeps, and the splinters no longer pierce. The textures and smells fade.
Add paint, and all is lost. Not that it can’t be decorative or even beautiful. It’s just not the true thing it once was.
This year I’m stripping away the counterfeit.

The nativity story has been long-told by the commercial industry.
Did she ride a donkey? It never says.
Did they stay in a barn? Probably not.
3 wise men or 30? No answer.
When did they arrive? Perhaps around the time Jesus turned two.

It’s amazing what can be imagined when the windows of the mind let in fresh light.

Mary’s windows didn’t show barns dotting the countryside. Imagine instead one-room homes divided by a trough. One lamp on a lampstand would light the entire house. At night, animals were brought inside for safety and warmth. They slept on one side while the family slept on the other.

It makes a dramatic story to think Mary gave birth in a barn on a bed of hay. But what if the story was even better? What if they were surrounded by love? By wide eyes behind an opening door? By open arms pulling them inside? By a family giving up their blankets? By women heating wet towels, patting the sweat on her forehead, and holding her hand?

No self-respecting Jewish woman would have let another woman deliver alone. Mary probably had a midwife- maybe several.

What if they were swallowed up by love from complete strangers and sent on their way with full bellies and bags overflowing with warm bread?

Shepherds. They were the tired, the dirty, the lowly, the untrusted- the unwanted yet necessary for the multitude of sheep facing slaughter over the sins of the righteous.

On that particular night, did fire flicker in tired eyes? Did wounds of loneliness run deep? Or was there laughter and drinks and something turning on a spit?

The angel appears. After wide eyes and dropped jaws, it speaks. “Do not be afraid.” The news of Jesus is offered, and a multitude of heavenly hosts sing.

He comes to the unwanted. He steps right between, wraps his arms around their shoulders, pulls them to his side, and says, “Wanna know a secret?” Then he blows the doors off with a show-stopping scene as big as his smile and is gone.

Wise Men, Kings, or Magi? How about “astrologers” and “alchemists”? Whatever title you put on them, think: magicians coveting power by means ranging from science to trickery to the occult.

And I could never reconcile it. How did this group take such an interest in the newborn king they decided to travel such a long distance on such an expensive journey with such expensive gifts which probably required a very large caravan and many more people than three? How did they even know he was coming? From the stars? From their magic? From the occult??

Could this mean God reaches out to the scoundrels?

He does.

Could it mean no one is so far gone they can’t return?

It could.

Could it mean he desires that not one would be lost?

He says it.

It’s never told how they knew. But what if God was planting seeds generations before?

What if Daniel taught the prophecies to the wise men back during his charge under Nebuchadnezzar- back when he saved all their skins? And as those stories were passed on with wide eyes, the wise men shifted from the “occult” toward the “science”? They would’ve known of the time frame and of the star. They would’ve heard legends of a “magic” a hundred times greater than anything they aspired to.

And the Source was credited.

They brought gifts fit for a king- their new King.

And on this Epiphany, I put the ornaments in their boxes, inhale the pine, and imagine.

I imagine the infinite possibilities,

the vastness of a God uncontained by time,

and the hand of God wrapping around my shoulder asking,

“Wanna know a secret?”