Every year I fight the commercialization of Christmas, and then I buy into it like everybody else. I spend weeks baking and decorating, buying gifts and wrapping them, planning holiday parties. The big day comes in a whirl of lights and music . . . and then before I know it, it’s gone. There’s an emptiness around my heart, something I can’t quite name. Where is the child all the fuss was about? Where is Jesus?
I wonder if the Church, our wise Mother, knew it might be like this when she made January 6 a celebration of Christ’s Epiphany—”manifestation.” Twelve days after Christmas, when our gifts are put away and we’ve all but forgotten that baby in the manger, we’re ready to be pointed back toward him. (The Feast of the Epiphany is celebrated on January 6 by many Catholics throughout the world. In most countries, including the United States, the Epiphany will be celebrated this Sunday.) It’s time to visit the child and take another look; to see him with new eyes and pay him homage.
Reading the account in Matthew 2, I think how my experience is like the first Epiphany. From their home “in the East” (Persia?), Magi see a new star in the sky. Somehow they know it announces the birth of a new king of the Jews, so they travel to Jerusalem—the royal city and most-likely birthplace. I imagine the final leg of their journey is full of excited anticipation as they plan to greet the king. But instead, they meet with ignorance and apathy. If there was any celebration at the birth, it’s over. The event doesn’t live up to their expectation.
How easy it might have been to think they were mistaken. Maybe they were wrong about the star. What kind of king would not be welcomed by the country’s leaders? And yet the Magi don’t give up. They learn of a prophesy that he would be born in Bethlehem and they head out of town. And when they do —”lo!” — the star they saw back home, comes out and leads them. They follow to a most unlikely place, a humble house where they find the child with his mother. Rejoicing even before they enter, the Magi fall down before the child and worship.
I’m serious, today, about wanting to find the Christ-child. I want to capture what I missed in all the holiday excitement. And so I take a cue from the Magi and make my way to Jesus’s house, to church. Prostrating myself before the Blessed Sacrament, I start to pray. Now what? Again, I look to the Magi: “Then, opening their treasures, they offered him gifts, gold and frankincense and myrrh” (Mt 2:11).
Maybe in expecting to receive, I’ve missed the point. What can I give him?
I must “open my treasures” and find something to offer:
- Gold: Not only money, my possessions. All that I have, the things I so often grasp myself.
- Frankincense: This represents worship. All of my praise, my adoration, admiration, respect—all that I so often direct toward others.
- Myrrh: A spice used in burial. Preparation for death. All of my life, which I so want to control and use to my own ends.
In thinking of things to give, I realize I am finding the Christ child. He is made manifest in this world when I give of my treasure. He is made manifest in this world when I worship and offer him praise. He is made manifest in this world when I give my life. He who was made manifest one day long ago in a small home in Bethlehem is made manifest daily as I—and you —do these things now.
“They departed to their own country by another way” (Matthew 2:12).
The Magi have seen and believed; they have turned around; they are in a sense converted.
I, too, return home by another way or at least in another way, with a heart turned toward him. My own conversion continues. I have seen the Christ-child, and I carry him with me into the world.
This article was first published on The Great Adventure Blog on January 6, 2016 and modified in January 2019.
© 2016 Sarah Christmyer
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About Sarah Christmyer
Sarah Christmyer is co-developer with Jeff Cavins of The Great Adventure Catholic Bible study program. She is author or co-author of a number of the studies. Sarah has thirty years of experience leading and teaching Bible studies. She helped launch Catholic Scripture Study and is co-author of “Genesis Part I: God and His Creation” and “Genesis Part II: God and His Family,” published by Emmaus Road. Raised in a strong evangelical family, she was received into the Catholic Church in 1992. Sarah also writes at comeintotheword.com.