With the Feast! Today Christ is baptized in the Jordan and all the waters of creation are renewed!
We look forward to the baptism of Christ.
“What child is this who’s laid to rest on Mary’s lap is sleeping?”
When I was little and full of Christmas anticipation, this child served as a reason for me to get lots of presents and perform in the annual nativity pageant. I enjoyed being an angel, a sheep, not so much, but the year I was cast as Herod’s wife, wow. The flowing garments and the exotic make-up I got to wear as a twelve year old overshadowed any consideration of who Christ was because I was beautiful!
As I grew older, Christmas holidays were family time and to give back to my parents by giving gifts in quantities they’d given me.
As a young wife and mother, I willingly sacrificed myself to the flurry of decorations, preparation of special foods and, of course, gift giving. I was intent upon providing my kids with the perfect Christmas with which I had grown up. Christmases which required stress before and after once the January credit card bill arrived.
Who is this child?
Over the years, stress has drowned out the answer. Gifts have to be made. The cards have to be written and mailed on time. Decorations need sorting and hanging. Once the children moved out, I had to prepare for their annual Christmas visit with their families. I had no time to give thought to the child in Mary’s lap.
Who is this child?
Phil 2:5-8: “… Christ Jesus, who, being in the form of God, … made Himself of no reputation, taking the form of a bondservant, and coming in the likeness as men… He humbled Himself and became obedient to the point of death, even the death of the cross.”
In the ‘Incarnation of the Word”, St. Athanasius says Christ “put on a body that he may find death in the body and blot it out”. This is reflected in the icon of the nativity where the babe’s swaddling clothes foreshadow his burial shroud and the manger, his burial cave.
This child was born to die so all of us might live and become who we are meant to be.
This is the magic of Christmas.
For one month of the year, despite the worldly cacophonous materialism, the presence of this child’s quiet, gentle, underlying love stirs people of all beliefs into becoming a blessing to others. People fill food hampers, volunteer at soup kitchens, give money to those in need and smile at strangers. Christmas movies depict jaded people going through a life changing experience and learning to love and embrace others (a la Scrooge).
For one month of the year, we catch a glimpse of the divine, of the world as it could be filled with God’s peace, love and joy, and we can taste the perfection we earnestly desire.
Recently, my family decided to give gifts only to the children, and to hold family reunions in the summer. Personally, my Christmas season has become much more relaxed knowing everyone is safe in their homes and I have only myself to prepare for the birth of this child. I no longer participate in the frenetic flurry of shopping and doing for others until December 26, when I can carefully wrap the baby up, gently place Him in the cupboard with the other ornaments and thankfully sigh ‘that’s another Christmas over with’.
Who is this child?
He is what I can become.
Christ entered the world as this child and grew to manhood and perfect humanity. Spiritually, I am born into the self-centeredness of infancy, gradually become aware of others, then, ideally, enter the self sacrifice of adulthood and completion of my humanity.
Christmas, as with all births, is only a beginning. If I allow it, Christmas is with me year round. I am part of the body of Christ, the incarnation of God on earth. This child is born into my heart, growing and leading me into service to others and self denial. This child lives in me while I journey towards becoming the perfect human being I was meant to be. Like this child, I was born to die, as everyone is and like this child, I can live in eternal love.
I’ve often heard the phrase, ‘when life gets back to normal’. I’ve said it myself over the years. After a move, or some major change, I always had my eye on the time when everything would settle down and we could get back to normal. The thing is, nothing ever went back to ‘normal’. Instead we settled into a new normal, a new normal requiring a new direction and new goals.
Like most people, I was taught to set goals; short term goals and long term goals for every aspect of life including education, financial, and relationships. Once I had a goal, I created a plans to achieve it. But the plan had to be fluid to accommodate the unexpected like an accident or illness, things that could even change the goals. But no matter the circumstances, there was always a goal, a destination to aim for.
I was taught to stay focused, to keep ‘my head in the game’, ‘my eye on the ball’ and ‘nose to the grindstone’. In the world’s eyes, my value as a member of society was apparently determined by my income and, since money could help me achieve many goals, the ultimate goal was, and is, to make money.
The problem is, pursuing money is frequently depressive, its realization is often illusive, and its success is never certain. Despite all my plans and goals, I can only be certain about one thing in this life; I’m gonna die.
“For I decided to know nothing among you except Jesus Christ and him crucified.” 1 Cor 2:2
Paul (aka Saul) spent his life studying the Jewish scriptures. He probably knew them inside out and backwards but, despite his great learning, was unable to see their truth. Jesus Christ was the fulfillment of the law and the prophets and yet, Paul with his intimate knowledge of the scriptures, was not able to recognize the one of whom the scriptures spoke.
Paul had to have a close encounter of the Christ kind on the road to Damascus before his eyes were opened, both physically and spiritually. After a few years off to re-evaluate his understanding of everything he had been taught, his paradigm shifted and nothing was ‘normal’ again.
Only in the light of the passion of Jesus Christ was the truth of the scriptures revealed to Paul. He realized everything, all the stories and the law and the prophets spoke of of Jesus Christ and him crucified.
Paul’s life turned upside-down. The scales fell from his eyes, the veil was lifted and the scriptures were opened. Paul had eyes to see and ears to hear and he saw all of life by the light of the crucified Christ. Everything Paul wrote to the early Christians, and to us, contains this theme.
In the light of this revelation, like Paul, my world is also turned upside-down. The foolish weakness of a man dying on a cross conquers death and reveals the wisdom of the ages. The more I admit my inadequacies, the more I can accomplish because God’s strength is made perfect in my weakness. My life leads to death and my death leads to life.
My goal is no longer to be successful by worldly or material standards. (In fact, I would suggest there are many popular elements of worldly success which are the very antithesis of Godly success.) My goal now is to follow the path of Christ, the path of sacrificial love, to have the scales fall from my eyes, and to see the Kingdom of Heaven all around me.
To this end, I abandon the frenetic pursuit of worldly financial success and stop asking God to bless my ‘wise’ decisions. I want to always see His way straight before me and to view all of life in the light of the Crucified Christ.
This is my new normal, ‘letting go and letting God.’ I try to live as though all that comes to me throughout the day is part of God’s plan for me to live in the Kingdom of Heaven. I may never achieve the goal of worldly success, but then, in the veiled eyes of the world, neither did Christ.