When Jesus therefore was born in Bethlehem of Juda, in the days of King Herod, behold, there came wise men to the East to Jerusalem, saying, Where is he that is born king of the Jews? For we have seen his star in the East, and are come to adore him...And entering the house, they found the child with Mary his mother, and falling down, they adored him: and opening their treasures, they offered him gifts; gold, frankincense, and myrrh. (Matt. 2:1-2; 11 DR)
On January 6th the Church celebrates the adoration of the Magi, when the Three Wise Men from the East came to worship the long-foretold Savior in Bethlehem. They had been guided by a star and found, as had been expected, the babe Jesus wrapped in swaddling clothes in a humble manger with His quiet, holy parents submitting to such royal homage. Lowly shepherds, beasts of the stable, and untold numbers of angels gathered there with the Holy Family for God to bless the Son's birth and announce Him, King of All, to the world. The moment is called "the Epiphany" because it is the moment of manifestation of Christ to the Gentiles, the glorious beginning of the rest of our salvation history. At His name every knee shall bend, and every tongue confess. And though as St. Paul instructs we should work out our salvation with fear and trembling, nonetheless we also join the choirs of heaven in joyous song as we proclaim the birth of the Redeemer. And so we had planned for our First Sunday gathering on January 1st to be, as is appropriate, a Christmas party replete with carols and singing and feasting and hot cocoa and all!
But come Christmas Eve this year, while we were trimming the tree and making ready for Midnight Mass, Mr. Verlander threw out his back and - though we did manage to get to that wee-hours Mass - it made for an unusually humble beginning of Christmas for the family. He was entirely laid up in a painful way, and then the family fell sick with a terrible cold (everyone except, God be praised, me - so I could serve as nurse for a couple weeks in as humble and grateful a fashion as I could muster!). But then we had to cancel our First Sunday gathering. It made sad faces sadder for a time, but we would be remiss if we failed to admit that we have cherished memories already in the unexpected ways that Christmas joy made itself manifest to us even as we carried these crosses at the most wonderful time of the year.
One of the unexpected gifts this Christmas came when we were gifted with a beautiful outdoor nativity set out of the blue. It has all the figures - Joseph, Mary, Baby Jesus, the shepherds with sheep, a cow, a donkey; there are angels, a star, three wise men with camels! Another unexpected gift came when a young man from church asked if we could perhaps bring instruments and do some carols during the parish Epiphany party after Mass since everyone had missed the gathering? The idea immediately appealed to our finally convalesced children, along with their father on the mend, and they eagerly loaded up a mandolin, guitar, tin whistle, recorder, and bodhran as we headed out for Mass that Sunday. Another friend had enthusiastically promised to come with his fiddle. After Mass and after warming up for about twenty minutes under a tree in a lot near the parking lot, our youthful singers ushered into the crowded parish hall. The room was loudly abuzz with unsuspecting families enjoying an Epiphany celebration; they were milling through the buffet line, lined up at the kitchen counter for a coffee, or seated and chattering around tables. The room is small, but it was so alive with crowded talk that hardly anyone noticed the kids set up in a corner and commence with Angels We Have Heard on High. However, to witness the sheer delight when, one by one by one, people began to wonder if they were really hearing music and singing, and to see their faces light up with surprised smiles as they cast their gazes on the several players, was wonderful. Then, people shifted their seating and gathered in closer, and in no time it was a caroling party. People sang where they sat or stood, or lined up with the players and heartily joined in. Babies laughed and danced and clapped, children sang along, parents and grandparents smiled and sang and took pictures. It was a tiny slice of heaven and a welcomed one for us especially after a sometimes weary time of suffering. In the scheme of things it wouldn't have looked like much - a relatively petty group of Mass goers crammed into a small and lackluster parish hall to sing like amateurs a handful of old fashioned songs. But it was something, and it surely touched a possibly long-hidden cherished memory for someone, or a handful of someones, and rekindled the old kind of childhood Christmas joy and childlike faith in God. And ideally it pleased the Father who gives us reason to sing. The little hall echoed with Joy to the World, We Three Kings, God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen, We Wish You a Merry Christmas, Good King Wenceslas, Away in a Manger, What Child Is This, Silent Night, Hark, The Harold Angels Sing and then a resounding Green Grow the Rushes, O! The songs brought young and old together in a merry time of gratitude for the manifestation of the Savior, and for those who hung back on the fringes and were too shy or jaded to sing, too bad. It was an unexpected party and one we will not soon forget!
Merry Christmas, God Bless This New Year, and Happy Epiphany! May we be led and inspired by the light of truth for all our days, and gratefully accept His gifts and graces as they manifest!
On this little homestead our family aspires to work the land and hand on the Catholic Tradition, walking in wonder and learning to live by the fruits of our labor, in honor of Our Lady of Fatima, who guides us to Him.