Friends of mine, Shaun and Mary Fullmer, are serving a mission in France. In a recent email Sister Fullmer wrote:
“The elders came back to our place for lunch after shopping and to do their weekly email. Because it is la Fête des Rois today (Kings’ Day), we bought galette at Tartapain for dessert. Elder B found the fève (“bean”, or surprise object) and got to wear the crown. He kindly left the figure for us to add to our small collection. Today’s item was an animal – hard to tell for sure but it might be a sheep or a donkey.”
She includes this picture of the fèves they have collected so far. Here’s what they are in the order the Fullmers acquired them: one of the magi, Hobbit character, croissant, baby Jesus, animal. (I’m betting the latest one is a donkey.)
By doing a little research through the scholarly authority of Wikipedia, I was reminded that Kings’ Day marks Twelfth Night, the beginning of the traditional Christian holiday on January 6th of “Epiphany”, honoring the “revelation of God the Son as a human being in Jesus Christ” as well as the arrival of the wise men and their gifts to the baby Jesus, twelve nights after his birth.
According to English and French tradition – some pre-dating the Christian era –, on Kings’ Day “the King and all those who were high would become the peasants and vice versa. At the beginning of the Twelfth Night festival, a cake that contained a bean was eaten. The person who found the bean would rule the feast. Midnight signaled the end of his rule and the world would return to normal. The common theme was that the normal order of things was reversed.”
I’m all for any event involving cake and surprises. This one, though…. This beats them all. This is so potent and powerful. Kings travel from afar and bring costly (and, to the external eye, inappropriate) gifts to a newborn baby. The King of Heaven becomes a peasant and dwells among us. Our sense of order is tipped on its ear.
God the Son did come to earth. It’s not like He earned Godhood here. He had that when He got here – tiny, vulnerable and wide-eyed at the sight and scents of frankincense and myrrh.
Parley P. Pratt’s millennial hymn (#187), “Jesus Once of Humble Birth”, heralds Christ’s eventual return: Once He suffered grief and pain/Now he comes on earth to reign.
If we think that will be Jesus’ first time being the exalted Lord, we have missed the whole preexistence component. And the point. God came to earth. If biting into a bean helps us remember and comprehend that, bring on the beans!
And the lucky one of us mere mortals who gets the bean – the Hobbit figure, the donkey – can wear the crown and be royalty. But wait. We, the peasants, are not mere mortals. C.S. Lewis’s quote from The Weight of Glory expresses this eloquently:
“It is a serious thing to live in a society of possible gods and goddesses, to remember that the dullest most uninteresting person you talk to may one day be a creature which, if you saw it now, you would be strongly tempted to worship….
There are no ordinary people. You have never talked to a mere mortal…. But it is immortals whom we joke with, work with, marry, snub, and exploit – immortal horrors or everlasting splendors.”
Kings’ Day/12th Night/Epiphany mark the end of the Christmas season. Perhaps our decorations are all packed up by now. The chaos of the holidays has returned to order. The guests have gone. We are left with a bean and a miracle to chew on.
Good thing, too. The next event on the traditional liturgical calendar is coming right up: Plough Monday, the first Monday after Epiphany. Back to work everybody.