Today we celebrate the last official day of Christmas, and for me the closing of this season carries with it a tinge of sadness. The idea of carefully packing away all of my beautiful Christmas decorations leaves me feeling a little blue. I know our house will look very plain and empty without all of the greens, reds, and golds…the very visible signs of hope and of the promise fulfilled in Christ’s coming.
This Christmas was very special for me because I think it was the first time ever in my cradle catholic life that I paid close attention to what God was trying to say to me during both the Advent season and the Christmas season itself. I believe that this preparation allowed me to continue to see all the signs of Christ’s coming everywhere I looked, well after December 25th. I’m very thankful for that.
Yesterday at Mass we celebrated the last Sunday of Christmas, and it felt so very fitting that it fell on the Feast of the Epiphany—the day we celebrate the Wise Men bringing gifts to the baby Jesus. I was lucky enough to cantor at this particular Mass, and it was special because it allowed me to sing the words from Psalm 72: Lord, every nation on earth will adore you. Every nation on earth will adore the Christ-child; the one who is High Priest, Prophet, and King over all the world.
It was also incredibly special because it gave me the opportunity to notice things that I usually don’t. Right before the Gospel Reading Father incensed the psalter. We read about this kind of offering in Scripture often, and it is carried on in the Tradition of the Mass. It is a reminder through our sense of smell that our prayers and daily sacrifices, united with the Words of God and his passion, are lifted up to heaven together in oblation to God in the Mass. Yesterday in Mass I got a unique visual of this, because as Father began his homily I saw the incense resting above the altar, and fanning very, very slowly to the giant crucifix behind it. I could almost see the Lord smelling it…taking in a deep breath as he hung on the cross in the most perfect offering. It was as if he was breathing in deeply the beautiful fragrance and offering of the Mass and exhaling it all back. It was a stunning image, and one I think perfectly captured the reality of the Mass.
After this vision, I was called back to Father’s homily in which he spoke of the three Wise Men. He told us of their journey to see the Messiah who was to be born, and how they went out of their way to follow the star which shone brightly in the sky. Father reminded us that their journey was treacherous, but despite the obstacles they would face, they showed immense courage. They allowed the bright shining star to lead them on an unknown journey—a journey which they hoped would take them to see the King. And it did. It led them to a tiny baby resting in a humble and meager manger: a poor and lowly image that nonetheless radiated such beauty and profound light. All they could do was kneel in thanksgiving, offering their finest gifts of gold, frankincense and myrrh to their King.
The gifts that the Magi brought the Lord are deeply rooted in significance and meaning. The three gifts pointed to and foretold just who the baby in the manger was: the gold was a gift associated closely with royalty and endurance; the frankincense had medicinal purposes; and the myrrh was an embalming and anointing element. Through these three gifts, the Magi were acknowledging that Jesus was a King whose kingdom would never end, that he would take on the role of High Priest, and that his life and death would significantly be involved in our salvation (the True Prophet who brings the Good News).
This got me thinking about Christmas in our culture today and what it seems to have become all about. The center focus has greatly shifted away from Christ, moving more towards other things like Santa Claus, goofy Christmas songs, and the countless hours of prepping and buying, storing and wrapping, giving and receiving gifts with one another. One has to sit and wonder if this is what Christ wants of us during the Christmas season.
Yesterday, though, I couldn’t help but think that the practice of gift giving isn’t too far off from what God wants us to realize. He doesn’t necessarily want us to focus on the material goods, but he wants us to understand what it means to be given a gift, and in return pour ourselves out in love for one another as a gift to each other. In Christ, we receive the greatest gift of all: we receive the gift of salvation and the divine opportunity to enter into communion with the Lord; to know him, to love him, and to put him on for ourselves through the Holy Spirit. Yesterday I realized in a deeper sense that the Christmas season doesn’t just end abruptly, but rather ends with a calling. Through the guidance of the Christmas season we are brought into the New Year with the most perfect gift of Christ’s love, then sent forth to carry his light and his love out into the world. Christ perfectly lived out his calling to be priest, prophet, and king, and in doing so he gave us the capacity to live this out in our own lives today. We are called to daily make an offering of our lives to one another and to the Lord in a gift of love; we are called to boldly proclaim God’s goodness to the world; and we are called to become kings like Christ, masters of our own desires and selfish whims, and people who seek always to prioritize and will the good of the other. In this three-fold way, we become Christ’s light in the world, a gift to one another. Through Christ, we become the visible signs of the promise fulfilled.
I think just as there is a time for all seasons, it is fitting to pack up and store our Christmas supplies away. Just as Christ walked forward in his life and resolutely journeyed towards Jerusalem, we too have to go forth and live our lives day by day. We cannot live in the Christmas season forever. We have to encounter all the joys and celebrations, and obstacles and pains that come with a New Year. Hopefully, though, as we continue on in this journey we remember to merely store the Christmas decorations in the dark and dank basement of our homes…not the spirit of Christmas itself. That, we should remember to save and store in the inner recesses of our hearts.