In our culture many people are ready to ‘pack it up’ the day after Christmas and move on to the next holiday. What a shame since that would be truly missing the point. Those of us who are Christian know that what we were preparing for through Advent was the birth of Jesus, such a profound event that we celebrate it for nearly three weeks. It is too big a celebration to be ‘contained’ in only one day of feasting. Therefore, December 25 does not end a season, but rather begins one: Christians are only getting started with the festivity! The Christmas season is a celebration of how God bent low, as the Franciscans love to say, coming from Heaven to enter into our world so that one day we might leave our world to enter into His, so to speak; that is, to enter into Heaven.* This is the cause for our great rejoicing. Of course we might feel a little tired after all the preparations and gatherings throughout December, especially on Christmas Day. But should we feel a bit spent because the pre-Christmas celebrations took a bit out of us, all is not lost: since Christmas is just beginning, there is still opportunity to reflect upon the mysteries of this season, especially that Jesus came into the world in the most miraculous way with love beyond all telling. Hopefully our meditation will also focus on what happened after Christ’s birth with the coming of the shepherds and Magi, and with the time of Mary and Joseph presenting Jesus in the Temple for circumcision and naming. For the Holy Parents this would have been as joyous as His birth because of the tremendous meaning contained in the rituals. And as for the shepherds, Magi, and a prophet named Simeon, they would have been ecstatic because they had seen the Lord. Thus, in this season we are invited to see the Lord along with them.
When Jesus was born the shepherds experienced angels from on high singing ‘Glory to God’ and the Magi had a star to guide them. But when Mary and Joseph brought the baby Jesus into the Temple, Simeon had no such assistance. All he would have observed was a Jewish mother and father bringing their infant son in for his presentation to the priests. As observant, devout Jews, Mary and Joseph were driven by their love for God as well as their understanding of the Law; they would have looked to the 8th day after birth when their baby boy would be marked with the sign of their faith, circumcision, just like every other Jewish male. This sign marked their Son as a true son of Abraham, of which Jesus literally was. (See the genealogy in Matthew 1) It was also on this occasion that a baby was named and so this was when He officially received the name Jesus. Presentation was a tremendous milestone since it completed the birth, so to speak, a cause for great joy in their hearts. The Christmas season offers reflection upon this wonderful event and therefore, we are invited into their joy.
We are also invited to reflect upon the Holy Family as they were approached by Simeon while leaving the Temple. When the prophet laid eyes on Jesus he joyfully prayed: “Now, Master, you may let your servant go in peace….for my eyes have seen your salvation which you prepared in the sight of all the people…” (Luke 2:29-32) God granted this holy, faithful man the desire of his heart which was to see the Messiah who he now recognized as God come to earth. But how did he do this? As a person of prayer and reflection, he had grown in trust and in love, learning to recognize the presence of God; it is as simple as that. Simeon knew the suffering, hardship, and oppression which the Jewish community lived with at that time, but he rejoiced in the fulfillment of God’s promise found in Jesus. And because he was a man of prayer, he also knew both the joy and the eventual sorrow that the mother of this Child would experience.
Like Simeon, we are called during the Christmas season to learn to recognize the presence of God more keenly. However, we have been given a greater gift than seeing God. Not only can we greet Jesus, but we can receive Him into our bodies. At every Mass, the Body and Blood, Soul and Divinity of Jesus really present in the Eucharist is given to us. Simeon never had that, but because this Child came into the world, we do. Perhaps in our prayer after Christmas we can imagine the shepherds telling their families and other shepherds in the fields: “My eyes have seen God’s salvation! I saw God in a manger, the child named Jesus!” Or perhaps we can reflect upon the Magi returning to their land doing the same. In the Christmas season we are invited into their reverence and joy at being in the presence of Jesus. We are offered an opportunity to realize that we are so blessed that we get to do more than the shepherds, Magi, or Simeon ever could do. Christmas is a season in which we can adore God as a Child come down from Heaven, made available to all. Three weeks are dedicated to celebrating this glorious gift; along with both poor and rich, resident prophets, and foreign Magi we can take this joy into the rest of the year. That is cause for great rejoicing. And now, perhaps like Simeon, we can go forth into the new year in peace.
May we continue the celebration we began on December 25 throughout the Christmas season! May we greet Jesus with love as did the shepherds, prophets, and kings! And may we respond in joy every time we come before Him to worship and when we receive Him in the Eucharist! Let us meet in joy and adoration! Peace!
©Michele L. Catanese
* I am speaking metaphorically (and hopefully poetically); our world is God’s world, and Heaven is for us to spend eternity with Him.
1. Icon, The Holy Family for the Holy Family Hospital of Bethlehem, by Fr. William Hart McNichols. If you like this, you can purchase a copy in one of many mediums at https://fineartamerica.com/featured/the-holy-family-for-the-holy-family-hospital-of-bethlehem-william-hart-mcnichols.html (Remember, I get no remuneration for endorsing Fr. Bill's work. I just want to share the beauty!)
2. Painting, Shepherd with Sheep, by Camille Pissarro (1888).
3. Painting, Simeon in the Temple, by Rembrandt Harmenszoon van Rijn, known simply as Rembrandt (1669)
4. Painting, Adoration of the Magi. I found this on a Christmas card many years ago; artist unknown.
5. My photo, Christmas light display on the Red River in Natchitoches, LA.
Note: In compliance with GDPR rules, I wish to make it clear that I do not gather any information on any of my readers at any time.
Heart Speaks to Heart