Did you ever notice that dessert is the first dish in line at many
buffet restaurants? Yes, you could eat dinner backwardsstarting
with dessert, then moving on to the appetizer and main course. In
the end you eat all the food, but its nowhere near as fulfilling
as enjoying each part of the meal in its proper place. Or worse,
dessert could fill you up before you eat a balanced meal.
Sometimes we suffer the same temptation with Christmas. Our culture
tends to skip Advent and start celebrating Christmas after Thanksgivingif
were lucky to make it that far! Then its all packed
up and stored away by New Years. This year, consider returning
to the ancient practice of seeing the whole Christmas cyclethe
period that embraces both the Advent and Christmas seasonsas
one unit of joyous celebration. Preparation comes first, then comes
celebration extending a few weeks after Christmas Day.
The focal point of the Christmas cycle is obvious: God becoming
one of us in Jesus, the Incarnation. All three phases of the cycleAdvent,
Christmas and Epiphanyhinge on and celebrate that point. These
celebrations help us to name the ways our lives are caught up in
the big story of Christ. And these feasts tie our lives
to Christians throughout history. The tradition of the Church, the
living gospel, is the real-life experience of Christians like you
and like me, and those who have gone before us.
During Advent, which begins in 2007 on December 2, we emphasize
the joy that some would compare to the months before a child is
born: excitement, wonder, joy, expectation, even exhilaration at
the life that is in our midst right now, yet also a hope and longing,
and a carefulness to get things into order.
During the Christmas season we celebrate the wonder of the Incarnation.
How wondrously we are made that the Word of God would become one
of us! God shows us how to live fully: by pouring out our lives
for others. That is what the days of Christmas are all about.
Epiphany and the Feast of the
Baptism of the Lord celebrate Christ becoming manifestthat
is, presentto all peoples. On Epiphany we focus on the three
Wise Men symbolizing the many races for whom Christ was born. The
baptism of Jesus marks the beginning of his public ministry. Gods
Christmas gift of the Incarnation is a gift for everyone!
John Bookser Feister is the editor of AmericanCatholic.org.
This article is excerpted from Catholic
Update, "Advent to Epiphany: Celebrating the Christmas Cycle."
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