Children are a gift from the Lord; the fruit of the womb, a reward. Like arrows in the hand of a warrior are the children born in one's youth. Blessed are they whose quivers are full. They will never be shamed contending with foes at the gate. ~Psalm 127:3-5

Wednesday, December 28, 2011

On the Fourth Day Of Christmas, My True Love Gave To Me: A Lesson In Humility

For Unto Us A Child Is Born.*

It is the fourth day of the Christmas season and even though I am not naive about the world, I am still always surprised how quickly it gets over Christmas. People are already taking down trees and decorations and I'm trying to figure out how to keep my tree alive for the next week and a half to celebrate the feast of the Epiphany with it still intact. If you don't know, Epiphany is the celebration of the wise men coming to visit Jesus (which, contrary to popular belief was NOT on the day He was born!). Lately, I have been thinking of the 12 days of Christmas, and that song - which is kind of annoying - runs through my head. I kept trying to figure out words I could replace the original words with, indicating my "true love" as the real True Love, Jesus Christ. But for some reason my brain just doesn't want to cooperate. Chalk it up to the craziness of the past week, and my mommy brain of course. (I like to pull out that card AS MUCH as possible, by the way!) Epiphany is on the 12th day of Christmas, January 6th. This year it's celebrated on Sunday the 8th. I forget why...maybe I should look that up.

In any case, I am contemplative of the fact that there are so many celebrations of the holiday within my family and circle of friends and they range in varying degrees of meaning - from "gift exchange" to "celebrating Christ's birth" and everything in between. We have had two celebrations already, each of which were one of the two kinds I just mentioned, and we have a third one to attend this Friday, which is the 6th day of Christmas. For the past three years, I've tried to make the Advent season a time of true preparation, and not just for the celebrations and gift-giving. I've tried to prepare my heart, and work on instilling in the children a sense of wonder and desire to prepare theirs as well. After all, it is in fact a celebration of the birth of our Savior, a the King . The festivities that ensue of course are fun, and in our own limited human nature are a good "representation" of the joy and exultation we Christians feel in our hearts as we commemorate the birth of Christ. But at the same time, they often get out of hand, stressful, overwhelming to the point where we forget the true purpose and meaning of Christmas.

I can't tell you how many times I heard someone talk about how overwhelmed and stressed out they were trying to plan and shop and bake and decorate. For weeks, I heard about sales and discounts and deals, yet very little of preparing our hearts and minds for the coming of the Lord. What a relief it was at Mass every Sunday of Advent to hear our priest talk about not just preparing ourselves to celebrate the birth of Christ- the first coming of God, but to remember that we are to be preparing our hearts and souls for His second coming; the return of the King, which can happen ANY time.

It was a relief and a challenge, for I myself was one of the people stressed out about the preparations for the celebratory aspect of the holiday. And the challenge didn't just come from our priest, it came from other sources as well. Right before Christmas, I lamented to a friend on one of my down days that I was frustrated with my husband for not helping more. He has been home as the winter season is slow for our business, yet hadn't done much to help me prepare for the three different family visits that would take place to celebrate the holiday. It was stressful for me, as I had all these visions of what needed to be done, I was hard at work planning and creating thoughtful gifts for his family and mine, planning what to get and do for the children, leading them in Advent activities and prayers, baking and decorating. I was doing almost everything I thought needed to be done on top of my regular duties, and I was just exhausted, my frustration oozing out in the direction of my unsuspecting husband.

My friend, however, is so wise and loving that she challenged and admonished me in such a way that made me think about the fact that my heart was slowly moving in the wrong direction in regards to celebrating this joyous occasion. On Christmas Eve I received her response to my email to her. She challenged me with Philippians 4:8: "think on what is true, what is right and lovely" and she asked me what we really NEED to have a Merry Christmas. Could I be frustrated with Joe in my heart and truly except the gift of God's Love and salvation through the Christ child? One thing I have been trying to instill in my children is a heart to serve, as I have been working on that in myself as well. My friend gave me another passage in Philippians to contemplate: "In your relationships with one another, have the same mindset as Christ Jesus...he made himself nothing by taking the very nature of a servant, being made in human likeness. And being found in appearance as a man, he humbled himself...."**

I was humbled by this passage. Not only was I losing focus and throwing away all the efforts I had made over the last 4 weeks of Advent to prepare my heart, but I was allowing myself to affect my relationship with my husband in a negative way because I was unable to be in the same mindset as Jesus. I wasn't viewing my physical efforts to get ready for our celebrations as an act of servitude, I was viewing them almost as drudgery - a burden for which I had no help. But how much of a servant was God for sending His only Son; for Christ to humble Himself by becoming a helpless baby born in a stable surrounded by animals, and then leading a life as a servant of God's people?

I was challenged by these verses, humbled by their nature. And by my friend's question: What do we really NEED to have a Merry Christmas? Her The answer: a heart ready to accept the salvation God offers us by sending His only Son to die for us. In this culture, even Christians are entrapped by the illusions of the season, the stress of preparations for the perfect day, regardless of their intentions at the start. Most holiday music invokes in us a sense of excitement and anticipation but the focus of that excitement is wrong. It focuses on the tree, the stockings hung by the chimney with care, family spending time together (which isn't a bad thing in and of itself), food, traveling, shopping, baking, gifts. But in in the midst of everything a voice is calling out to us, massaging our hearts to awaken to the true spirit and wonder of the season: The Christ child, born in humility and servitude, sent to die for us as a sure sign of God's perfect Love.

The greatest Gift of all.

Today my husband is in bed, sick. As I continue to keep in mind the joy of the season and rejoice in the truth of God's perfect Gift, the position I am placed in to care for Joe reminds me again that we are to be humble servants, continuing to prepare our hearts for Christ as we approach the feast of the Epiphany. Epiphany ends the Christmas season and brings us into Ordinary Time until Lent begins. Lent, like Advent, is a solemn time to prepare our hearts but for THE greatest act of humility, servitude and Love- Christ's death and resurrection. But every day should be used as an opportunity to humble ourselves as Christ did. As an infant God took on the most perfect form of innocence, wonder, and humility. To be like-minded, we must humble ourselves in the same way, viewing life through the eyes of a child - the Christ child - and serve in much the same way as He.

*(Isaiah 9:6)
**Philippians 2: 5, 7,8 (NIV)