They feast on the abundance of your house;
You give them drink from your river of delights.
For with you is the fountain of life;
In your light we see light. Psalm 36:8-9 NIV
“We do not come to Christmas to pretend that the baby Jesus is born again this day. . . We come to Christmas looking for the signs of Jesus’ presence manifest in our own life and age, in us and in the world around us.”
– Joan Chittister, The Liturgical Year
Although the wrapping paper went out with the recycling this morning, and gifts have been presented to loved ones, our Christmas tree still holds vigil in the corner of our family room. The lights on the tree stay lit through the night, and I’ve hardly unplugged it this year. It reminds me that we are in the midst of a celebration that invades our lives, and asks us to keep remembering the Light of the World.
To keep my heart tender toward the mystery of the Incarnation, each year I think I will celebrate the twelve days after Christmas, which lead to Epiphany. I have a vague idea of this observance, but no real frame of reference, since I was not raised liturgically. I could probably sing all the verses of the familiar song, and have heard that each one of the verses symbolizes significant events in the life of Christ and the church. But I want to know how to celebrate these twelve days. I want to prepare for Epiphany.
As I was reading some more in The Liturgical Year, I found the chapter on Christmas fascinating. Apparently there has been some dispute over the centuries as to when to date the birth of Christ. And through some interesting reasoning the church of the West and the church of the East came up with these two dates. Then the more liturgical churches began celebrating the feast of Christmas, which starts on Christmas day and ends on January 6th or Epiphany, as a compromise of sorts.
You really have to read the whole chapter to get the sense of this, but the main conclusion about the dates comes down to this– Christ’s birth was significant. Thus we celebrate this time of year. What I like about the feast is that those who observe it mark, not only the birth of Jesus, but also significant events in his life before Easter, such as his baptism.
I need to do some more investigating, but in the meantime my response will be to make this observance personal, not just a history lesson. To do so I will ask myself the following questions: What will I do with this knowledge of Emmanuel–God with us? Will I invite Jesus to teach me more about his life, and how it impacts mine? Will I read the gospels more? Will I be found ministering to those in need and comforting those who suffer this year? Will I become more like Jesus in my thoughts, words and actions?
How about you?