Merry 9th Day of Christmas from this old house! We are still enjoying the Twelve Days, sitting in front of the lit Christmas tree, listening to Christmas music, finishing up the treats we made and that others shared with us. It has been a lovely time.
While we are still in the days of Christmas, the focus has shifted from the baby in the manger to what does this baby, God-come-in-the-flesh, mean in our everyday lives. Twelfth Night and Epiphany draw near. In some countries, Epiphany, January 6th when the Church remembers the arrival of the Magi in Bethlehem about two years after the actual birth of Jesus, is the day when gifts are exchanged in honor of the gifts those astrologers brought to the Christ Child. In some countries, the children put their shoes out on Twelfth Night filled with treats for the Holy Sages and/or their camels (or elephants, depending on the country). It is a bigger festivity in some places than December 24 and 25th.
In fact, Epiphany is the earliest form of Christmas in the Church we have. The early Church was concerned more with Who Christ was than with the details of how he got here.
As we move from a “cute baby” story and into the meaning of that Baby in the world, we see that a conflict is inherent in Christ’s arrival into any situation. Back then, Herod, enraged when the Wise Men didn’t come back to tell him where they found the King of the Jews, murdered all baby boys two-years old and under in Bethlehem, in a failed attempt to stamp out any competition. Joseph had been warned in a dream and fled with Mary and Jesus to Egypt before the massacre happened. They lived as refugees for several years, no one knows for sure how long, until Herod died and they could return to their country but not to their same home town (see the full story in Matthew 2:13-23).
I find that the Christmas story becomes more interesting as we move through the Twelve Days. If all we had was the baby-in-a-manger story, that would be enough but to hear of all that happened after where the lessons stop on December 24th fills out the story in rich and unexpected ways. Suddenly, we are into the waters of oppression, refugees and corrupt governments. We have parents trying to guess right next steps to protect a vulnerable Child. We have poverty, fear and anxiety, things we can all relate to.
This is what makes New Year’s resolutions so meaningful to me. What practices do I want to end that are not life-giving? What practices do I want to begin that are life-giving because the story of Christmas is definitely about LIFE: full, rich life. By connecting to the rest of the story the Twelve Days tells us, I can find many places to hook into with my own small story. I can find models of courage and faith that inspire me to walk away from death and toward life.
Suddenly, losing weight or stopping smoking aren’t just random health items but part of a larger call to engage in life fully. Exercising becomes a way to participate in the Incarnation, God coming as a human in Jesus. Self-medicating through alcohol, shopping or entertainment is ultimately forms of slow suicide. Resolving in small ways to live instead of die is a way for me to say yes to God and no to the Herod’s of this world, who seem to be in every age and culture.
Goethe is said to have opined that “the dangers of life are infinite, and among them is safety.” When we do things that will supposedly keep us safe but also keep us from stepping out in faith, we are participating in a danger that leads to a life of anxiety and smallness. Marianne Williamson’s famous quote is applicable here:
Our deepest fear is not that we are inadequate. Our deepest fear is that we are powerful beyond measure. It is our light, not our darkness that most frightens us. We ask ourselves, Who am I to be brilliant, gorgeous, talented, fabulous? Actually, who are you not to be? You are a child of God. Your playing small does not serve the world. There is nothing enlightened about shrinking so that other people won’t feel insecure around you. We are all meant to shine, as children do. We were born to make manifest the glory of God that is within us. It’s not just in some of us; it’s in everyone. And as we let our own light shine, we unconsciously give other people permission to do the same. As we are liberated from our own fear, our presence automatically liberates others.
As we near the end of Christmas and move into Epiphany and the time after Epiphany, we are invited to step into a much bigger story than many of us have allowed ourselves to walk in. We are invited out of our comfort zones and into the realm of angel messengers and unexpected journeys. We are offered gifts from unexpected visitors and a life on the frontiers of the faith, the place where the winds of the Holy Spirit blow strong but fresh.
Happy New Year, everyone! May all your resolving bring you more life.