As you read these words, it is more than a week after Christmas. However, due to publication deadlines, I am writing them several days before Christmas, which puts me in something of a predicament. I find myself asking you, a week before Christmas, what difference Christmas 2015 has made in your life? To put it another way, what difference has Christmas made in your entire life? Or, even more to the point, what difference does Christmas make in your life?
Matthew’s Gospel describes a world of class distinctions, crooked politicians and prejudice; a world divided between those who “have” and those who “have-not.” In other words, Matthew describes a world very much like our own. But then something happens; something that makes a difference.
“And you, Bethlehem … from you shall come a ruler, who is to shepherd my people Israel (Micah 5:1-2).” Shepherds were looked down upon. They spent their lives moving from place to place with their sheep — and they smelled like it. There were many shepherds around Bethlehem. “Behold, Magi from the east arrived in Jerusalem …” The Magi were astronomers, the ‘college professors’ of their time. “They prostrated themselves and did him homage.” Picture Harvard faculty bowing down before the janitor’s son! “Then they … offered him gifts of gold, frankincense, and myrrh.” Evidently these men were also wealthy. It must have cost quite a lot to make such a trip, not to mention the cost of their gifts. Something was happening; something that would make a difference.
But that was 2000 years ago (or more than a week, depending on how you count). Christmas is over and Valentine’s Day hearts have replaced Santa in the mall. But wait a minute; maybe that’s OK. In fact, maybe that’s exactly the point. Christmas isn’t about power or presents; Christmas is about love (think Valentine’s Day hearts). And since love isn’t generally something that you’d expect to find at the mall (or in the workplace?) like the Magi, it’s something we’re supposed to bring there. Maybe that’s what would make the difference! The Magi went away changed, departing “… by another way.” Can we say the same days after Christmas 2015?
Van Benthem is a member of the Secular Franciscan Order and a longtime pastoral minister, retreat leader, spiritual director and published writer and poet.