MERRY CHRISTMAS - ONE MORE TIME
With dead Christmas trees on the sides of streets; Poinsettia plants losing their leaves (or in my case, after dropping too many leaves - already discarded!) and stores having liquidated their “holiday merchandise” with clearance sale prices and already displaying Valentines Displays, that greeting seems a bit misplaced. Many of us who’ve been seeing “signs of Christmas” since early October have in a sense “moved on.”
For the Church though the Christmas Season started on December 25th and sees today’s feast of the Baptism of the Lord as the last Sunday of the Christmas Season. For close to three weeks, we have been reflecting on the birth of Jesus. As a church we meditated on the birth of Jesus to the Virgin Mary under the protective gaze of Joseph... joyfully announced by angels and shepherds. We recalled those somewhat mysterious to us men – called Kings, wise-men, magi or astrologers – who had followed a star that led them to this newborn king, Jesus. And now to bring the season to a conclusion, the Church fixes her gaze not on the infant, but the grown up Jesus, going into the Jordan river to be baptized by John the Baptist.
It’s a somewhat confusing way to end the season... For us, Baptism means we’ve entered into the Life, Death and Resurrection of Jesus... that by that moment, we are intimate members of His Family. We are Jesus’ Brothers and Sisters. We have once again become Children of God after the ravages of Sin had separated us from Him.
John the Baptist, was offering something different... He was calling people to a baptism of repentance. He was preaching that a savior was coming and in order to prepare for that savior, people needed to recognize within themselves how all of us are in need of this Savior... we could never fix the damages of sin on our own... we would need God, and still do, to do that for us...
What better way to propel us to not “end Christmas” but to move away from the manger scene and get to the heart of why we celebrated that feast in the first place?
For in this scene as Jesus enters into the Jordan river, the good news of Christmas is articulated not by angels, shepherds or wisemen... but the very voice of God. We read in the Gospel that the Father from Heaven can’t contain his excitement at the lavish gift he has given us. The Father speaks: “This is my beloved Son with whom I am well pleased” (Matt 3:17). In that moment, the God of all creation “never tires of repeating [to humanity]: ‘Yes, I am here. I know you. I love you. There is a path that leads from me to you. And there is a path that rises from you to me’” (Pope Benedict XVI)
Psychologists tell us that these early days of January can be difficult for many people. With the marketing-hype-overdrive that leads up to December 25th and somewhat suddenly ends, that sense of excitement and anticipation leading up to a single day could never live up to expectations. Which is probably another reason we seem so ready to pack “Christmas” away and already look forward to something else that might excite us or peak our interests.
Yet for each of us Baptized, we know what we have received is something that can not be contained to a single day. This incredible gift from God: the treasure that it truly is, the depths of love contained in it, the generosity required to give it so freely to us... it takes even more than our collective lifetimes to begin to appreciate. Words fail us as we unpack what today’s “Christmas feast” that the words of the Father are spoken not just to Jesus, but to each one of us baptized into Christ, calling us His “beloved.” That’s why, we simply say: “Merry Christmas” one more time.
Posted by Fr. Jim Chern