Monday, January 7, 2008

The final strains of Silent Night gently fade into warm and cherished memories as the winter morning turns toward another typical business day of the new year. Crumpled Christmas wrapping papers are methodically brushed aside as office documents and end-of-the-season tax papers take their place. And the final lingering aromas of the holiday season are quickly overtaken by the day-to-day scents of morning coffee, toast and school lunches...

For so many, this transition of the annual year is one of the most difficult to face. The seemingly abrupt end of the highly anticipated Christmas season is marked by the beginning of another calendar year. It is a time when we simultaneously reflect back on our fleeting holiday joy while again being reminded that the world around us - along with ourself - is simply another year older. We quickly dismiss the somewhat unfulfilled grand goals and resolutions that we made only 365 days earlier in hopes that this coming year will be one of greater personal accomplishment. The Christmas lights are painfully extinguished for another year as that personal glow inside seems to dim just slightly as well... only to be reignited in a few short months...

It is a pattern, an annual ritual many of us find ourselves embracing. The question remains: Why? To experience such heightened seasonal anticipation and then, joy, only to follow it up with a sobering dose of letdown as we step back into the day-to-day parade of Life. So, why?

My friend, as another brisk midwestern January envelopes us, I share with you the simple thought that perhaps the "secret of the season" lies somewhere amidst the closing measures of The First Noel and the often overlooked celebration of the Epiphany.

For many, the manger scene gloriously displays the Three Wise Men (the Magi) and their gifts, right next to the humble presence of the area shepherds... all peering upon the precious gift of the Season. However, it is widely believed that the Three Wise Men didn't arrive until some time after the birth of Jesus; perhaps one to two years later. Regardless of the timing of their arrival, it is important to remember that they did arrive and offer praise. The Epiphany itself is a Christian feast intended to celebrate the "shining forth" or revelation of God to mankind in human form, in the person of Jesus. Most Christians commemorate the visitation of the Magi to the child Jesus on this day, while others use the day to commemorate the baptism of Jesus as an adult. The feast is also called Twelfth Day — being the twelfth day after Christmas — or Three Kings Day for those commemorating the Magi.

It took quite a powerful ray of starlight to draw these strangers from so far away. And my guess is that after their experience in the little hamlet of Bethlehem, life was never the same again for these gentlemen. Something happened there; an eye-opener and a heart-stopper of an experience. It was the epiphany. Their minds, eyes and hearts were opened wide to the greater beauty and purpose of Life. From that moment on, Life must have seemed so much richer and clearer and their daily tasks paled in comparison...

It is believed that the ominous melody and words of The First Noel were first crafted and arranged between the 16th and 17th century. The word "noel" itself has many translations and definitions: Christmas, birthday, new light, etc. The word "noel" is also believed to be the nickname (first name) for a certain saint Saint Nicholas. The very song and its verses detail the beauty of that first birth, that first Christmas. Its melody celebrates the new light that cut through the darkness... and all of Life would be brighter... forever...

It's hard to step back into the gray of our days when just moments before we were basking in the glow of that noel and in the warmth of that epiphany. But to a smaller degree, don't we have a similar experience on the day after a wonderful family reunion? The week after a memborable personal birthday or anniversary? The weeks after the departure of a dear friend from our neighborhood?

Moments like these are epiphanies; they puncture the drabness that enters into our days and remind us - again and again - of what is most important. It is the very commonality of the human celebration. And it is Christmas that places the divine in the very center of each of our yearly (and daily) celebrations. Once we've been introduced to that noel, that new light, humbly disguised as an anniversary, a holiday, or birthday, it's no wonder we would be hesitant to step back into the shadows of the daily journey.

But it doesn't have to be that way, my friend. For even though our birthday candles have been extinguished for another year, our life still goes boldly on, day by day. And in that spirit, we might consider taking the advice of wiser men and following the star long into our yearly journey... long after the celebration of that first noel.

And by the light of that same star
Three wise men came from country far;
To seek for a King was their intent,
And to follow the star wherever it went.
Noel! Noel! Noel! Noel!
Born is the King of Israel!

Peace be your journey through all the Christmas moments of your year. May they each bring a personal epiphany that lightens your days.

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