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Good tidings could toll, sing out in song,
fire or luminescence, light of any kind
to pierce the dark, a pillar of cloud
exiting Egypt; angels summoning shepherds.
Why send a star? Light already ancient,
a false ringing from a long-dead phone?
(Or does it live? By what name do we call it?)
Could only a star call the wise, with time and
thought to spare for gifts: gold for a king,
resin for the altar, spice for the embalmer,
already waiting to bless the linens
He would shrug off like a memory?
Have we any hope but to go the old way:
step by step across the desert,
to the limits of our imaginations,
and seek and seek the single light that shines
in an otherwise brutish sky?
A message sent light-years ago:
something both living and dead.
A cross is coming, do you see the shadow
pass over the baby’s face?

Those miniature mangers we keep around our homes at Christmastime are liars — they make us forget that the three kings (or magi) never hovered around Jesus’ birthplace to adore him along with the shepherds, angels and various ungulates. It took them time to get where they were going. In this, I understand and sympathize with them. It takes most of us time to see the way to God — years and years and years. As such a sojourner, I felt compelled to compose the following.

I didn’t get it
not at first
still don’t, not really
but the portents are present
and I can read them,
the words becoming old friends
to my tongue.
One of these days,
after crossing the desert
or the ocean
or the mountains — any of these
may be —
I will at last decipher the last
of the bent runes,
turn my map counter-clockwise,
realize that where I’ve been
is where I’m going
after all, and then
I will arrive, hot on the heels of magi,
with only my body of stardust to give.
It will suffice.

It is not over. Despite the lull that follows the frenzy of flying wrapping paper, the aching bellyful of cookies, and an overload of carols, Christmas does not end on Sunday. It is only the beginning of the season, of the “twelve days of Christmas” that the famous song describes. It encompasses the veneration of the magi at Epiphany, the Solemnity of Mary, Mother of God, and (in many faith traditions) the baptism of our Lord. That’s a lot of goings-on for a period most people consider a mere aftermath.

I suppose many of us experience the post-holiday blues. Maybe it wouldn’t be so bad if we saw Christmas Day as less of an ending and more of a beginning. It is the incarnation of God as flesh that is the true gift of Christmas, and that does not end when the last gift is unwrapped. Imagine the enormity of it! God, greater than any of us can imagine, makes himself small, as small as a baby in a manger, just so He can touch us, live among us, connect with us. “God became flesh because flesh is loveable.” That’s my favorite quote from author Mary Gordon’s The Company of Women. And isn’t it so? God became flesh in the most loveable way: as an infant. We can dislike grown-ups, roll our eyes at bratty toddlers and moody teens, but babies? You have to be made of some pretty stern stuff to hate a baby.

It is the unfolding of the Incarnation that we celebrate post-Christmas Day: The wise men from the East following the star to adore the newborn Savior. (They understood the magnitude of the situation.) The child’s first presentation at the temple. The evasion of Herod’s plans to kill Jesus. (Even then, the powers-that-be wanted Him dead.) All this, reminding us of the tension of God-become-flesh, for flesh is fragile, too.

This fourth week of Advent may be the end of the waiting, but it is not the end of the celebrating. We’ve only just started that. Keep it in mind. And have a blessed and merry Christmas!

Have a Mary Little Christmas

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