While most of us probably still have our Christmas trees up, if you’re anything like me it feels like Christmas was months — rather than days — ago. Even the “after-Christmas sales” are winding down. Hats and noisemakers have replaced Santas and snowmen on store shelves and there’s nary a Christmas carol to be heard. So we might find ourselves asking, “What difference has Christmas 2014 made in our lives?” Or, perhaps more to the point, “What difference does Christmas make in our lives?”
Matthew’s Gospel describes a world of class distinctions and 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.” 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. “(B)ehold, 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 2,000 years (or two weeks) ago. Christmas is over and Valentine 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 political power or prestige; Christmas is about love. Christmas isn’t about what we get; it’s about what we give! Maybe we need to be more like the Magi, more concerned about bringing gifts than getting them. Maybe that’s what would make the difference! The Magi went away changed, departing “… by another way.” Can we say the same? Are we changed? What difference does Christmas make in our lives?
Van Benthem is a member of the Secular Franciscan Order and a longtime pastoral minister, retreat leader, spiritual director and published writer and poet.