Growing up Baptist, Christmas was a religious day. We put up our Nativity scenes and celebrated the birth of the Christ-child in a lowly manger. We sang Happy Birthday, Jesus and Silent Night. Living in a secular world, Christmas is a materialistic free-for-all beginning with the holiest of days for shoppers, Black Friday, and ending with 75% off all Christmas decorations on the 26th. By New Year’s Day, the wrappings and bows have all been picked up by the garbage man, the tree and lights are safely packed away for another year and most of our new must-have toys and gadgets are broken or forgotten. The excitement of Christmas and the new baby Jesus, born to save our souls, now past, we find ourselves feeling lost and bewildered – emotionally hung over – dreading the return to work and school.
This year, I felt the darkness of the coming winter season as the heavy hand of depression set upon me. When the kids are here, the house feels alive – full of light and love. This was their dad’s year to have them for Thanksgiving and the better part of the Christmas season, though, so their absence added to the weight of the oncoming darkness brewing inside me. On Sundays through Advent, we sat through the services hearing of hope for light to come and pierce the darkness of the season. I ruminated on the services afterward as if this were the first time hearing it. And perhaps it was the first time, as I’m new to this whole Episcopal thing. All I know is that it struck a chord with me as it echoed what I was feeling inside – the hopelessness and emptiness that depression brings.
Christmas morning came and went so fast that I could hardly blink. The temporary joys of fellowship, family and children were whisked away along with the carols playing on the radio. It’s as if one day God became man to save us all and the next He was dead and we were plunged back into the drudgery and ennui of the daily grind. Perhaps it was just like a friend of mine said in a meeting on Christmas Eve: It’s just another day. We sing Auld Lang Syne and make promises we know we’ll never keep. Yeah, a baby was born of a virgin womb, but that’s old news now, let’s get completely wasted and shoot off fireworks.
Thus, we enter yet another year physically, emotionally and spiritually hung over. We’ve got another two months of icy, winter bleakness to go, as well as seasonal affective disorder. Truly SAD, indeed.
These Episcopals are great, though, with their prevention for this spiritual rollercoaster – Epiphany. And no, it’s not just Episcopalians who celebrate the coming of the Magi, but it’s new to me, courtesy of my new faith. I guess I never really thought about the timing before. We always just lumped everything Christmas into December, so it seemed like good ol’ Balthazar and company showed up in time to cut the holy umbilical cord. When, in reality, it may have been as long as two years after that night in the stable when those wise guys finally dropped in.
We’re so quick to box up all our ornamentation and often feel guilty if we’re that guy taking down the lights in February. Christmas is over. It’s time to move on and get back to our real lives. But Epiphany says why go back? Something has happened here, something new and wondrous that is going to change our lives forever. These three kings didn’t just say, “Oh hey, looks like we missed the big day, let’s pack up all this Frankincense and head back home. What’s a toddler going to do with myrrh, anyway?” No, they kept going. They saw a sign of hope for a better life and they were forever changed.
I think it’s neat how Epiphany coincides with the kids’ return to school this year. Even those of us who had to work through the holiday break don’t really feel like we’re truly back to work until the kids are back in school; when we have to deal with regular traffic and school zones again. For all intents and purposes, Christmas is over now. The whole holiday season has ended and life is returned to normal. But nothing is normal again. We are forever changed. Tomorrow, we will wake up to find wise men from the East prostrating themselves before a child of lowly birth. Will we see this miracle for what it is or will we punch the snooze button and curse the light that courses through our windows?
I don’t mean to sound all churchy. And to be honest, I’m sure I’ll be one of those folks cursing the alarm and checking my calendar for the next three-day weekend. But right now, I’m happy that I’ve still got one more day to celebrate Christmas. I don’t have to follow the pressures of the world to pack up and move on. I don’t have to succumb to the displays telling me I’m not a good spouse unless I’ve already got the perfect gift in mind for Valentine’s Day. Today, I can just sit and breathe and be thankful that there is light and hope, even in the darkest of times.