They were overjoyed at seeing the star, and on entering the house they saw the child with Mary his mother. (Mt 2:11)
While the world has quickly moved away from Christmas to the next holiday, the Church only began its celebration at sundown Dec. 24 and will conclude the Christmas season next Sunday, Jan. 10, with the feast of the Baptism of the Lord. The Catholic faith is truly countercultural, and these Christmas season feasts in January prove that assertion. Today's feast, the Epiphany, follows the Magi from the East as they come to adore the newborn child. Having escaped the clutches of Herod, the Magi enter the home of Mary to bring their gifts of gold, frankincense, and myrrh to the newborn savior of the world.
The beauty of these feasts after Christmas Day is that the faithful can take a step back and really feel the meaning of the birth of Jesus Christ. The gift giving is done, the Christmas trees are either put away or added to the mulch pile, and all are lamenting that they ate far too much during the Christmas season. So with all of the commercial festivities of Christmas now complete, the faithful can now follow the example of the Magi of today's feast. They can make the journey to the newborn child. They adore the Word made flesh. Finally, they offer him the very gift of self. Ah, the true meaning of Christmas!
Throughout Advent Christians journeyed to the newborn child of Christmas. Time was spent in prayer. The candles of the Advent wreath were slowly and patiently lit. Christians sought meaning, purpose, and salvation in the word of God made flesh in Jesus. On Christmas day, the faithful symbolically arrived at the manger scene. In the life of Jesus, there are four important stops that are crucial to the faith of the Christian: the manger scene, the upper room where the Last Supper was shared by Jesus and his companions, the foot of the cross, and the empty tomb of the Resurrection. The place of Jesus' birth, the first Eucharist, the death of Jesus, and his Resurrection remind the faithful that Jesus came to guide God's people to eternal life.
Today, with the Magi, the faithful stand in awe and wonder at what God has done. Unlike the words of this column that will disappear, God's Word became flesh and will live forever. God has been born in time and space, to real parents and in a real community. Living among humanity, God took on human flesh to bring hope and salvation to all. That's what we see lying in that manger! Born humble, homeless, and poor, this newborn will be the salvation of all. With the Magi we stop at the spot of the birth of the son of God to adore this Christ child. Our journey will not stop there; it must continue to the other important stops along Jesus' journey. But today, in silence the faithful kneel in adoration at the crib of Jesus, this infant wrapped in swaddling clothes, who is the Way, Truth, and Life.
The Magi offer the newborn child and his mother Mary gifts of gold, frankincense, and myrrh. They made that long journey across the desert to adore the child, and then to offer all they had. Beware stopping at the manger! When the faithful come to adore the Christ child, he demands a response, and not a halfhearted assent to some obscure theological truth. No, this infant demands the total giving of self to his and our Father. He demands commitment to faith and obedience to the will of God the Father. Once the faithful have stopped at the manger, there is no going back! One's life will be changed forever at the realization that this child is the Word made flesh, as God has joined the human family in the person of Jesus, so now the human person is swept up into the life of God through Jesus' divinity. Redemption is now at hand. Come let us adore, that we, too, are redeemed and saved. Come let us give of ourselves to him, that in him we will know God. Thus is the true meaning and mystery of Christmas!
Questions for private reflection . . .
What do you see when you look into that manger? What affect does Jesus, the newborn child have on your life?
Say a prayer at the manger asking God to help and inspire you to live the Christian life fully in following this infant in swaddling clothes through his Last Supper, cross, and Resurrection.