For many people, Christmas ends at midnight on Dec. 25; the holiday music disappears from the radio, the trees get thrown out and the lights come down immediately.
As Catholics, we have a whole beautiful season to celebrate the birth of Christ; it extends until the feast of his baptism and, in some cultures, even until the feast of the Presentation of the Lord on Feb. 2.
This extension of time allows us to meditate on, absorb and deepen our relationship with the Lord, our understanding of the Incarnation and to celebrate the holy joy of the season.
Many beautiful liturgical feasts of the church grab our hearts during this holy time. What a great opportunity to go to daily Mass and to take in all of the celebrating.
Dec. 26 is the feast of St. Stephen, one of the first deacons in the early church and the first person to suffer martyrdom for his faith in Christ. The whole drama of Stephen’s witness and death is detailed in Chapters 6 and 7 of the Acts of the Apostles.
Celebrating this feast the day after Christmas reminds us the coming of Jesus was met, at times, with opposition, misunderstanding, persecution, violence and murder. Our faith is not simply a cozy and comfortable relationship with the Lord; it demands sacrifice, work, witness and generosity.
On Dec. 27, we celebrate the feast of St. John the Evangelist, the apostle whom Jesus loved, the author of the fourth Gospel and the Johannine epistles, and the patron of our archdiocese.
John witnessed the most profound moments of the life of Christ: the Transfiguration, the miracles and healings, resting his head on Christ’s chest during the Last Supper, and the agony in the garden. He was the only apostle to stay at the foot of the cross with Mary.
His writings show that he never got over the wonder of the Incarnation, the astonishment that this Jesus whom John came to know profoundly as a friend was, in fact, the Word made flesh, the Son of God present in a fully human way. We should never get over the wonder of it all either.
Dec. 28 is the feast of the Holy Innocents, the baby boys murdered at Herod’s orders in a vain attempt to destroy the Christ Child. Herod perceives this little Messiah as a threat to his own power and ego and therefore seeks to crush him.
This event reminds us that the reign of Christ supersedes worldly power and indeed subverts all the false kingdoms, idolatries and egos that do not acknowledge the sovereignty of God.
Why is this fragile little child such a threat when all he brings is love, peace, joy and forgiveness?
Why is religious faith such a threat to so many today? Thousands of religious believers are martyred every year throughout the world precisely for their faith; the vast majority of them are Christian. Again, why?
The feast of the Holy Family falls on Dec. 29, as we recall that God entered our world and our human condition as a baby and through a family. Marriage and family are challenged today in so many ways: divorce, poverty, domestic violence, the attempted redefinition of marriage, the stress of modern life all contribute to the diminishment of flourishing families and stable homes.
On this day, we invoke the powerful love and heavenly intervention of the Holy Family to bless, strengthen and sanctify all of our earthly families. We pledge ourselves: husbands, wives, children, parents and grandparents to make our families sacred circles of life, faith, love, prayer, joy and mutual support for each other. The family is the domestic church, the first place where children come to know the love of God.
Jan. 1 is the Solemnity of Mary as the Mother of God and also the World Day of Prayer for Peace. In a sense, God makes himself dependent on the Blessed Virgin to fulfill his plan of salvation.
Mary conceives the Son of God in her womb, gives him flesh and life, and situates him in the world. Without Mary, we do not have Jesus. Her sacred maternity is the door through which God passes into the substance of our humanity.
The Council of Ephesus declared Mary to be “Theotokos,” Greek for “God-bearer.” Honoring her and praying to her allow us to draw near to the very heart of God and the mystery of the Word made flesh.
We also pray on this day for peace in a world riven by poverty, violence, war and persecution. We know true peace will only come through a reordering of society that acknowledges the primacy of God, the dignity of the person, the importance of human rights and the need for solidarity with the poorest and the weakest in our midst.
On Jan. 5, we celebrate the feast of the Epiphany, the visit of the Three Kings to the Christ Child. The kings or astrologers are not part of the Chosen People; they come from distant countries,following a mysterious star, in search of a newborn king.
This event teaches us that Jesus is made visible and manifest for all nations and peoples; our faith in him is universal and Catholic because the Lord embraces, loves and invites everyone into the Kingdom of God.
This feast is an opportune moment to pray for all the immigrants in our country who are looking for a better life and often work very hard to support their families back home. We pray and work for just and prudent immigration reform.
As you can see, Christmas is more than a day, more than a 24-hour period nailed down on the calendar. The spirit of Christmas is a way of life, a belief in Jesus who brings us joy, peace, love and salvation. We pray for the perseverance to live this spirit all year long.