Sixth Day in the Octave of Christmas
You probably should not be taking down and putting away your Christmas lights quite yet. If we would let the Church year rather than American consumer culture guide our celebration of Christ’s birth, we would just be getting started. In many European countries, the climax of the Christmas season is Epiphany, still a week away.
Still, to echo today’s first reading, “I am writing to you” children, parents, and young people, to keep celebrating by looking beyond the glitzy enticements, pretenses and things of the world. Anna, the daughter of Phanuel, of the tribe of Asher, in today’s gospel reading, shows us how.
I have a special fondness for biblical figures such as Anna, who only appear once in the scriptures. Simeon, who has also been waiting patiently for the messiah, is another. My favorite is Mathias, who had walked with Jesus throughout his ministry, replaces Judas as the twelfth apostle in Acts 1, then continues his faithful witness (we trust) yet gets no further mention. They are patron saints and sources of encouragement to all of us who wait and work with little acclaim.
These are the ones who have been quietly, patiently, faithful. They may not be the celebrities of faith, nor the ones we think of first as the great heroes of faith. But they are true heroes of faith nonetheless. Widowed young, Anna has been keeping vigil with fasting and prayer in the temple for decades. Now, she quietly gives thanks, and if she does allow herself to chatter a bit, it is to “speak about the child to all who were awaiting the redemption of Jerusalem.”
The Church’s season of ordinary time is just a few days away. As we awaited God’s messiah during Advent, it is appropriate to anticipate our return to ordinary time, ordinary work, ordinary witness, as well. The messiah did not appear to us first amid the lights of a big city, or the flash and clang of swords, or even a gold-laced priestly chasuble, but in swaddling clothes, lying in a manger, back behind a nameless inn, in a backwater town. Anna, Simeon, and countless other ordinary believers are the ones who have been the chief bearers of God’s work in history, through good times and bad. Now it is our turn. God does not need the glitz.
Gerald W. Schlabach
Professor of Theology