By Ken Canedo
Once again, the Church seems to be getting it wrong. Many people toss out their Christmas trees on the 26th of December, understandably eager to put the dizzying and expensive holiday season behind them. The malls are once again crowded as shoppers frantically seek sensational post-Christmas bargains. Radio stations get back to their regular programming, putting away the Christmas CDs for another year, as TV stations gear up for New Year's Eve specials on Times Square, along with the gluttonous feast of college bowl games. Yep. Christmas is over, and not a moment too soon!
So what's going on in the Catholic Church? Come to Mass on New Year's Day and you'll see the Christmas trees are still up, along with the manger scene, wreaths, and other signs of Christmas spirit. We're still singing O Come, All Ye Faithful, Joy to the World, and a host of other Christmas carols. Well, maybe they'll take it all down after New Year's.
Nope. The following Sunday is the Solemnity of the Epiphany. We Three Kings, The First Noel, Christmas trees, manger scene with the Magi more prominent, the whole shebang. Okay, this week they'll take the stuff down.
Nope. The next Sunday is the Baptism of the Lord and it's still the liturgical Christmas season. Trees still up, and there's "Joy to the World" again. (Note: In 2006 the Baptism of the Lord is celebrated on Monday, January 9, because Christmas was on Sunday.)
"Hey, Church!" some folks might be thinking. "Christmas is done. Get over it!" Nope. On February 2 we celebrate the Feast of the Presentation, when Mary and Joseph brought their newborn child to the temple as prescribed by Mosaic law. Then there's March 25, the Feast of the Annunciation, when the angel of the Lord announced to Mary that she would conceive by the Holy Spirit and bear a child. March 25! Huh?
Okay, by the end of March the Church is well into the Lent and the preparations for the celebration of the passion, death and resurrection of Jesus. No sign of Christmas there, but that little tease on March 25 is well taken. Christmas is not something we can put out of site and out of mind on December 26. Christmas leads to the Easter event. And, there could be no Easter without Christmas.
Here's a practical way of looking at it. Soup kitchens, convalescent homes, senior group homes, and children's hospital wards are overrun during December with large crowds of well-intentioned people bringing donations, food, and Christmas cheer. For a brief shining moment, the residents in these places are lifted up by the possibility of a life filled with joy, warmth, good food, and loving care. Then, come January, it's back to the old routine of loneliness, subsistent rations, or hand-to-mouth existence. Why tease the poor and needy with once-a-year service? Imagine what our world would be like if we opened up our hearts and wallets to the oppressed and forgotten every single day of the year!
How about in our own daily situations? We don't need to go to a soup kitchen to find the lonely and oppressed, who often reside unseen right next to us in our school lunch room, in our favorite pew at church, and even in our own families and circle of friends. That cheerful Christmas greeting we exchange on the 25th of December is shallow unless we share it and mean it the other 364 days of the year.
There is a marvelous new Christmas song by Bob Halligan, Jr. (Ceili Rain) and Rick Modlin that I highly recommend. It's called On This Day.
On this day, dear Jesus,
may we give to you a gift or two.
Something for you, Jesus,
something bright and new,
but we know that though heaven see it
and our hearts believe it,
there is nothing we can give to you,
like you gave to us.
On this day, dear Jesus,
may our love come through
in all we do.
O our precious Jesus,
if our love is true
then maybe when we bow before you,
as one heart adore you,
you can teach us to give our love to you,
like you love us.
I can think of no better Christmas gift to give to Jesus then to share his love with all whom we meet every single day of the year. May 2006 be the year that Christmas truly breaks through and changes hearts everywhere – beginning with our own.
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