Most of you have probably taken down your Christmas tree and packed away the ornaments. If you haven’t done this already you may be feeling guilty and/or lazy. Even the 60-degree weather on New Year’s Day was a reminder that spring is fewer than 60 days away.
But if you, like me, still have your Christmas tree up, take heart. Some of the best lessons of Christmas happen after the parties end and the desserts are (hopefully) thrown away. Amidst the physical and mental weight of new year’s resolutions, some hidden messages of Christmas can strengthen us to achieve our goals in the new year ahead.
Full disclaimer — I am a devout Catholic and as such, I follow the liturgical calendar of the church religiously. I like that the seasons of the church follow the natural ebb and flow of life — especially the seasons of Advent and Lent which offer times of sacrifice and reflection in preparation for the celebrations of Christmas and Easter.
My kids enjoyed an extended Christmas season when they were younger — especially the gifts they received on “Little Christmas” — the Feast of Epiphany. They were the envy of the neighborhood children who wondered why their homes were not visited by three kings on camels bearing gifts. Now that they are grown, they think we are a little crazy — what else is new?
This year, my older daughter in Georgia is trying to persuade her fiancé to keep their tree up until Epiphany — most especially because their Christmas gifts from us were delayed by UPS and my procrastination. The extended Christmas season gives me a natural excuse for my procrastination (and may yet influence the celebrations of another generation for years to come).
Today, Jan. 6 — 12 days after Dec. 25 — is “Little Christmas,” the Feast of Epiphany. This is the day we celebrate the visit of the three kings to Jesus whom they recognize as the newly born King of the Jews. In Latin American cultures “Little Christmas” is a bigger feast than Dec. 25 and is celebrated with great festivities and the exchange of gifts.
In America, we spend so much time and energy in the build-up to Christmas Day that everything after Christmas morning is anticlimactic. Finally, we pick ourselves up with resolves for the New Year.
I hope that you have spent the past two weeks savoring and celebrating the Christmas season by relaxing visits with family and friends. But even if you celebrated a crash-and-burn kind of Christmas and Jan. 2 found you back at a daily grind, I encourage you to pause and learn a lesson from this often ignored Christmas feast.
The narrative of the three kings visit to the child Jesus offers us practical wisdom and spiritual insights for living a life filled with Godly purpose and resolve. You can read the account in Matthew 2:1-12. I share a few of these here:
1. Search for God: God promises that when we look for Him, we will find Him.
A good place to begin is by prayerfully studying scripture. I’ve been reading the Bible daily since I was a teenager. By following the daily reading cycle, I’m pretty certain I’ve read the whole Bible in context. I can honestly say that nothing has impacted my life more than reading the Bible every day. I’ve come to understand that it’s truly God’s living word which still applies to my daily life and circumstances. Inevitably, as I read, something will strike me from the readings as a word of wisdom or the inspiration that I need. The scriptures are truly my “daily bread.”
The Magi studied Old Testament promises to find Jesus. And they found him in an unusual place — beneath a star, as a little child on his mother’s lap.
With the advent of social media and online resources, it’s even easier to find a group or a study to join to make it easier to reflect on the scriptures. I belong to a non-denominational Bible study in a Facebook group with local women, most of whom I’ve never met. In all of human history, it’s never been easier to read the Bible. Look for God. You will find Him with you and possibly in places, where you did not expect.
2. Worship God with a grateful heart. Matthew says, “When they saw the star, they were overjoyed. On coming to the house, they saw the child with His mother Mary, and they bowed down and worshipped Him.” (Matthew 2:10-11).
The best way to worship God is to be thankful for the gifts He has given us. Practicing an attitude of gratitude changes our perspective on our lives and makes everything seem better — even if it’s not. I was reminded of this simple truth on New Year’s Day this past week when a dear friend of mine, who is also a mom to a young adult with special needs, shared a cute story about her daughter. She told me that when her daughter woke up on New Years’ morning she said, “Happy Thanksgiving, Mom!” Her daughter reminded both of us that gratitude is the best response to the new year, and indeed to each new day.
3. Give God your treasures and your sorrows. Scripture scholars debate the meaning of the gifts the kings offered the child Jesus, but what we do know is gold, frankincense and myrrh were all precious gifts worthy of a king.
I believe the wisdom for us in the kings’ gifts is to let go of all we hold on to including our financial resources — our “gold”. After my husband lost his career job in 2008, my mother used to remind me, “money doesn’t make you happy.” I often quipped back at her, “neither does poverty.” Through all our financial struggles, I’ve come to understand that we were both right. Laying our “gold” at the feet of Jesus doesn’t mean we don’t pay the bills but it does mean acknowledging that wealth itself is a gift from God and that we need to be good stewards of the gift by using it for the good of our families and to help others in need.
The gift of frankincense — often used by kings and priests in ceremonies — reminds me to humbly submit my positions of leadership and power to God. It’s a treasure that helps me to remember that I can’t control everything. I am not here to serve myself but rather to serve God and others.
And the myrrh, an oil frequently used to anoint a body in preparation for death, reminds me to give the Lord all the losses in my life and trust that He will bring them to new life. Let go and give God the treasures and the sorrows.
4. Listen for the voice of God. Look for signs and be willing to change your course.
There was no media release about the birth of Jesus. The Magi had to connect the dots by studying and reflecting on the prophetic books of the Old Testament and by looking for signs in the world around them. Even in their conversation with King Herod, they were able to discern Herod’s true murderous intentions running beneath his polite expressions of goodwill. The Magi followed a star — an actual sign in the heavens which pointed them to God born on earth. If we take the time to reflect and look for signs of God among us, I promise you we will find God — probably in most unusual places.
We are all on a journey in this year with new resolve. If we follow the example of these three wise men as they sought the Lord, we will witness signs along the way and find the wisdom that we need to live lives with Godly purpose.
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