Though this reflection must be submitted by evening, I find myself reluctant to begin. Christmas 2013 lives only in my memory and in the photos and video that chronicled the day for me. In spite of the decorations, Christmas Cards and gifts received, our home feels empty. Our Christmas Tree’s branches droop a bit lower, exposing the bare spots that I carefully filled with ornaments a few weeks ago. The angel costumes which our granddaughters wore for Christmas Eve Mass are stored for another year. The gifts that filled the study where I write have been given, and the last of the wrapping and boxes wait in the dumpster for pick-up. I shiver in spite of the humming furnace this chilly afternoon, and I wonder… What were Mary and Joseph doing two millennia ago after the excitement of Jesus’ birth faded into the trials and tribulations of raising the baby boy destined to be the Messiah?
Our Christmas carols and hymns offer numerous possibilities regarding the Nativity. On that silent and holy night, angels sang. Shepherds responded. A drummer boy drummed. The Night Wind asked Little Lamb, “Do you see what I see?” A more recent composition inquires, “Mary, did you know?” Still, the beauty and reverence of these beautiful songs cannot fully capture the First Christmas. This emotional and trying time tested Mary and Joseph. The events that followed challenged them even more harshly.
Astrologers, who traveled a terribly long distance to find them, surprised and amazed Mary and Joseph with their devotion to Jesus. This visit began Jesus’ ministry to the entire world, far beyond the borders of his own Jewish community. This milestone in Jesus’ life offered relationships with the God of Israel to all people of good will. Sadly, the Magi’s unprecedented kindness came at a great price. When they stopped at Herod’s palace to learn what he knew of the newborn king, the Magi inadvertently alerted the tyrant to a possible threat to his throne. Fortunately, the Magi made good use of their wisdom as they took an angel’s warning to avoid Herod when they returned to their homelands. Joseph also heeded angelic intervention which directed him to take his family to Egypt. In the end, the Magi responded to their encounter with Jesus by sharing the good news in their own countries. Herod responded to Jesus by ordering the slaughter of all Jewish boys under the age of two, thus ridding himself of his potential nemesis.
Joseph, Mary and Jesus remained in Egypt, far from their homeland, until an angel brought news of Herod’s death. Though Joseph hoped to return to Judea, he found that Herod’s son now occupied the throne. To avoid this possible threat to Jesus, Joseph took his family to Galilee and settled in Nazareth. There Joseph and Mary raised Jesus. The next mention of Jesus in the scriptures references a trip to Jerusalem during Passover. After observing this feast, Jesus remained to study in the temple while his parents journeyed home. It was a day into their travel before Mary and Joseph realized that Jesus was not with them. Mary thought her twelve-year-old had joined the men to walk because Jesus was old enough. Joseph thought Jesus joined the women because he was so young. When they finally found him, Jesus responded to his parents’ worry by insisting that he had to be about his Father’s business. Still, Jesus obediently followed them home. Again, the gospels lapse until Jesus’ public life begins at age thirty. A shiver takes hold of me as I consider all Mary and Joseph must have done to help Jesus prepare for that day…
Though this year’s Christmas preparations challenged us due to my convalescence, my husband and I truly enjoyed it all. Every light strung and ornament hung spoke what our hearts could not put into words. This Jesus who changed everything and everyone with his arrival did not miss us in the process. Though life has pushed us and pulled us from the wonder of Christmas through our own trials and tribulations, we would not have it any other way.
Yes, I am pensive and a bit tentative as I begin this New Year 2014. Still, a welcome bit of warmth nudges away the chill and fills me up with hope. Our home is not empty after all. Just as our worries and concerns remain, the realities of God’s love and our own potential to grow in that love remain as well. This love is God’s gift to the Magi and to us all.
©2013 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved