WE WISH YOU A MERRY CHRISTMAS . . .
First Timothy 1:15
Brothers and Sisters,
This week, Holy Mother Church is celebrating one for the most important Holy Days of the Year: the Solemnity of the Annunciation of the Lord. This is the celebration of the day (or was it at night?) when Archangel Gabriel visited young Mary and, on behalf of God Almighty, asked her to be the Mother of His Son.
You will notice, of course, that this solemnity is celebrated exactly nine months before Christmas Day – this being the usually assumed length of time for a pregnancy. This fact alone (that the Annunciation is exactly nine months before Christmas) inspired me when I was a kid. I remember thinking: “wow, the Church really know what She is doing! We are starting the ‘countdown to Christmas’ right here, exactly nine months beforehand.”
With Advent (the weeks immediately before Christmas Day) being only four short weeks, it is exciting to think that the Church offers us this very special anticipation at nine months prior to the Nativity of Christ. Perhaps you remember in your own family a recent time of expecting a child and the thrill of expecting the birth date for those nine months. Mark the calendar, set a countdown on your mobile phone: Christmas is coming in nine months.
Yet, some will find this feast day awkwardly placed: Palm Sunday (or Passion Sunday) is next weekend. Holy Week will follow, where we remember Christ’s Passion, suffering and death on the Cross. For many, this seems like quite a bump in the road if we are only just starting the countdown to His birth.
It is not that Holy Week is poorly timed, but rather that the Church is able to show us the purpose of His birth. In many classic paintings of Christ as a very young child, we often find that the artist has included Christ’s cousin Saint John the Baptist as a childhood friend. That’s fair enough, but most telling is that often – when seeing a painting of the Christ child with his cousin Saint John the Baptist – the artist has Saint John the Baptist holding a cross, often even holding a cross intending for the infant/toddler Christ to see the cross. Now of course historically this does not make sense and would not have happened; these paintings are not intending to depict an actual day-in-the-life of young Jesus and John, but rather to communicate a reality of why Christ was born: born to be the suffering servant (cf. Isaiah 51-53) that would take on the sins of the whole world (though He had Himself done nothing wrong).
The wooden makeshift cradle of the Manger at His Nativity lead to the wooden Cross. Very appropriately, then, does the Annunciation – the nine month countdown to Christmas – occur (most years) in the days just before Holy Week; we are then able to see the purpose of His birth and the model par excellence for our lives. As did He live, so also we live: sacrificing our will for God’s will.
God be near,