(1 John 2:12-17; Psalm 96:7-8A, 8B-9, 10; Luke 2:36-40)
My wife’s family has had a weekly conference call ever since she and her siblings went off to college. It’s a low-key affair, with all sides updating each other on significant (and not-so-significant) events for the past week. When I married my wife, I (unsurprisingly) became a tangential participant in these calls.
After a couple of years, I realized that I had started to develop a philosophy for how to live my life . . . especially with how I spend time with my household. Namely, I wanted to make sure we had an interesting tidbit to talk about during the weekly call. It feels pretty unimpressive to say that all we’ve accomplished over the past week has been to work, sleep, chores, and maybe watch some television.
So, instead, I tried to make sure that we did something each week that would sound suitably interesting, whether it was going out as a family to a festival, playing an interesting game together, taking a class, going to a church program, or the like.
I was reminded of this as I contemplated today’s readings. We’re now solidly in the days of Christmas, and today marks the sixth day of the Christmas Octave. Today’s first reading from the First Letter of John ties in well with our notion of Christmas – especially the idea of gifts.
For many in the world, Christmas is a time for loot . . . for getting as much stuff from others as you can. A little further along the selfless spectrum, some people try to ensure they get as many amazing gifts for others as they can.
Of course, as Christians, we realize that the primary reason for the season is our Lord, Jesus Christ. We celebrate his birth during the yuletide season, and we understand that no present a human could buy or make can match the gifts Christ gave to the world – a guide to knowing and loving the father, a pathway to forgiveness for our sins, and a gateway to life everlasting with God.
That is what John reminds of in his first letter today, as he addresses an early Christian community. We’ve been forgiven for his name’s sake. We know the father. Thanks to the power of Christ, we have conquered the Evil One.
Such amazing gifts! No wonder today’s Responsorial Psalm has us exhort, “Let the heavens be glad and the earth rejoice!”
The gifts of Christ are not the sort of thing that we stick in a drawer, forgotten once the holidays are over, like we might a sweater or a book we read once. The gifts of Christ are intended to comfort and bolster us for the entire season . . . the entire year . . . all our mortal lives. God should be with at all times, in our hearts and on our minds.
The extreme of that ideal comes to life today in the Gospel selection from Luke. Therein we hear about Saint Anna the Prophetess, an elderly widow who never left the temple, but worshiped night and day with fasting and prayer.
Anna’s life was spent in the temple, devoting her mind, heart, and body to God. So what did she do when she encountered the Christ child? She gave thanks to God and spoke about the child to all who were awaiting the redemption of Jerusalem.
In the same way I live parts of my family life with how I’ll have something to report to my wife’s family, I believe we should all live our lives with a mindset for how God will respond when we meet Him. Anna lived life in prayer, and – when she met Jesus – she gave thanks to God and told all who would listen about him. John’s Letter reminds us of the true way we should live our lives: Do not love the world or the things of the world. If anyone loves the world, the love of the Father is not in him.
We live today amid the Christmas Octave, after weeks of preparation have led to the birth of Christ, and a contemplation of what that means. In the same way that Saint Anna recognized the Christ Child and what it meant for those who longed for redemption, we need to open our hearts to the wonderful opportunity that having Christ in our lives represents. In the same way I’ve shunned inactivity in order to have a life that will please my wife’s family, Saint John reminds us that we have to shun the pleasures of this world so we can have lives that will please God.
Regardless of the gifts you’ve received this season from those you love, let us rejoice that the greatest gifts of all have been given freely, thanks be to Christ! Whether you’re spending time with family, are alone at Church, or going out into your community, may the joy of these gifts fulfill you more than any fleeting pleasures of this world. Merry Christmas to all!