Editor’s note: “Matters of faith” is a column that provides local religious leaders a place to write about how their respective faiths provide hope, courage and strength in these modern times.
Merry Christmas! We continue to celebrate Christmas in the Catholic Church until this Sunday, Jan. 12 when we celebrate the Solemnity of the Baptism of the Lord. We end the season of Christmas remembering the beginning of Jesus’ ministry and his baptism by John in the Jordan.
I noticed at the only gym in town that they had a promotion that was for the 12 days of Christmas. They started this promo on Dec. 12 and then made the last day on Christmas Eve. I shook my head with my water bottle and yoga mat in my hands. The first day of Christmas is Dec. 25, or when the sun goes down on Dec. 24.
As Catholics, every big feast day is celebrated over eight days such as Christmas and Easter. We call it the octave of Easter or the octave of Christmas. I may have lost you there. Are we talking about 12 days or 8 days? Well, officially it is eight days of Eucharistic celebrations. The other four days are the countdown to Epiphany, which we celebrated last Sunday, Jan. 5.
We remember, according to the Gospel of Matthew, how the magi or wise men found the Christ child, and Mary and Joseph in Bethlehem under the star. The four weeks before Christmas we celebrate Advent, which is the liturgical season where we as a community prepare for the coming of Christ. We believe in the three comings of Christ. The first coming was the birth of Jesus, the second coming will be at the end of time when the fullness of the Kingdom of God will be present on the earth, and the third coming is the present time.
Jesus makes his presence known to all in the world through the Holy Spirit. He is in the hearts of the baptized, through the sacraments, and in His Word, the Bible. I encourage my parishioners not to celebrate Christmas until it is Christmas and then not to stop until it is over on Jan. 12. Before Christmas we are occupied with the celebration of Advent. We have special Advent songs like “O come, O come Emmanuel,” and we light our Advent wreath in our churches, a candle for each week. It is a time for prayer, reflection, and preparation for the coming of Christ.
I heard one priest say that it is a time to prepare to meet your maker. If you or I are not ready to meet God, then we are not ready to celebrate Christmas. Many Catholics will celebrate the sacrament of reconciliation (confession) during the time of Advent. I know that I spend a good portion of my time going to other Catholic churches in Salt Lake to help them with their reconciliation services and my confession line is a little longer on the Saturdays of Advent.
The celebration of Christmas has morphed into quite a different beast. The secular celebration has clearly divorced itself from its roots. It is painful to watch how materialism has usurped this beautiful holiday. Many folks say Christmas is about families getting together, presents, and all of the craziness that this holiday has become. But that is certainly not the original intention.
Many people make themselves miserable because their lives don’t resemble what they see in movies and television, or how they imagine their neighbors are enjoying the holidays. Even Santa Claus or St. Nicolaus, a bishop in Turkey, who was known for his generosity and his fight against Arianism (a Christological heresy in the early Church) is more a creation of Coca-Cola than the real man.
He rescued three young women from being sold into slavery because their father did not have the dowry for them. Bishop Nicolaus dropped bags of gold from his family fortune through the window of their house, so that their father would have the proper dowry. He did this when each daughter reached the proper marriage age. Christmas only makes sense when one celebrates it within a community of faith and the celebration is not one of excess, but of giving to those in need.
The season of Christmas is a rich and wonderful season; however, we are tempted to rush into it too quickly and end it too soon. I was shocked when I heard that the Christmas tree was lighted at the Vatican a week and a half before the Christmas season started. A parishioner asked me why we were waiting when he saw the big tree in front of St. Peter’s Basilica. The matter was compounded by all of the natural trees having been sold in Tooele and his wife being not too pleased that they had to go all the way to Salt Lake to find a tree and pay a premium price.
What Christmas is about is that it is a religious holiday. It can only be understood by those who have accepted Christ as the savior of the world; otherwise it is just a paid work holiday and a celebration of material goods.
God became human, so that we and all creation could be restored to a relationship with God. If there are presents to be given, these gifts should be for the poor, following the example of St. Nick. We should remember the baby we celebrate was born in a barn for the salvation of all humanity.
Rev. Dinsdale is the priest at St. Marguerite Catholic Church in Tooele.