Wednesday, December 17, 2008

Christmas Every Day

(This essay first appeared several years ago, in Our Sunday Visitor's New Covenant magazine. It later morphed into the longer piece, Easter Every Week, for Catholic Exchange.)

Christmas Every Day

We hear it all around us: “I love this time of year! People are so generous! Why can’t every day be like Christmas ?”

I asked the same question before I became a Christian. For me, Christmas time began right after Thanksgiving, when I started shopping, baking and getting caught up in “the Christmas Spirit.” It held no religious meaning for me, but there was something so attractive about the time of year ... something warm and glowing, something that whispered "community" and "love." Whatever the something was that made people feel so good -- and in my unbelieving days I wanted to think it was nothing more than a good story by Charles Dickens -- I wanted a little piece of it.

After I was baptized, I fell in love with that “something” -- Jesus Christ. I finally knew the Source of all that community and love, and I wanted to share the good news. When people wondered why every day couldn’t be Christmas I would say, “It can! Become a Christian!” Jesus was the wellspring of the generosity, the love, the desire to give. He was the very definition of Christmas that I had been missing all those years.

I started to see everything about Christmas in a new way. When the Christmas season ended and people complained of how dull and gray January can be, I thought about how we can carry Christmas into every day of the year, because Jesus is always with us. The things that make Christmas special are the things we are called to do in our daily Christian life: to love, give of ourselves, share with the poor, and celebrate our Lord. However, though I tried to keep “that Christmas spirit” every day, I instinctively knew that real life wasn’t like that. “All good things must come to an end,” and so it seemed with the joys of the Christmas season.

Five years after my baptism, I was received into the Catholic Church, and I learned that we can live our Christian lives even more fully than “trying to see every day as Christmas” (which wasn’t quite working for me anyway.) Through the liturgical year, we enter deeply into every aspect of Jesus’s life. We wait with anticipation through Advent, live with joy through Christmas, fast in the days of Lent, and rejoice again in the Easter season. We experience the joy of our Savior’s birth, and we feel the desert of life without Him, the suffering of His passion and death, and the joy of His resurrection more deeply when we live our lives in rhythm with the Church’s liturgy.

The Church, our earthly mother left to us by our Lord, knows what we need. In giving us a liturgical calendar she has given us a prescription for how to live each and every day. Are we getting dry in our prayer, losing touch with God? She gives us Lent, to help us examine our lives, make a new sacrifice, renew a promise. Are we struggling through the desert? Just in time to save us, the beauty of Easter arrives, with the joy of delighting in what was “lost” during Lent. Easter is celebrated for a full week on the church calendar, an “octave”, because one day is not enough to contain this great feast.

Are we caught up in the “commercialism” of Christmas? Mother Church gives us Advent, to slow us down and teach us to patiently watch and wait. She then gives us twelve days of Christmas -- again, the joy of the celebration cannot be contained in one day! Then there is the Twelfth Night, the feast of the Epiphany -- we get to celebrate again, and observe the day that the Magi brought gifts to Jesus. Even in “ordinary time” there are feasts, memorials, and observances of saints’ days that help to remind us of our vocation, the state of our relationship with God, the depth of our prayer lives.

As a new Christian, I was on the right track when I discovered that every day could, in some way, be Christmas. But I was missing a big part of the puzzle. The liturgical calendar supplied the last of the missing pieces. I have delighted in the ways living the liturgical year deepens and revitalizes my spiritual life, including my prayer life.

A wise mother knows that her children can’t celebrate all the time -- every party has an end. Can every day be Christmas? No, but every day can be Christ-filled, imbued with spiritual meaning as we follow, re-enact and celebrate the events of our Lord’s earthly life. We can thank our wise mother, the church, for the wisdom of such a gift, at Christmas and always.

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