(This post was originally published back in March. Here it is again for the Christmas Season.)
Have you ever heard that the date for Christmas (December 25) was selected to coincide with a pagan holiday? Don’t believe it. The calculation is actually based on Scripture.
Every year on March 25, the Church celebrates the day when the Angel Gabriel announced the conception of the Christ to Mary. March 25 is exactly nine months prior to December 25. To see how the date for Christmas was calculated, first we need to go back to September 25, when the Angel Gabriel announced the birth of John the Baptist to Zechariah. (Remember, during the Annunciation to Mary, Gabriel tells Mary that her cousin Elizabeth has also conceived, and Elizabeth is in her sixth month. See Luke 1:36. September 25 is six months prior to March 25.)
September 25 fell at the end of the Jewish season of Yom Kippur, the Day of Atonement. (The date for the Day of Atonement falls on the tenth day of the seventh month of the Hebrew calendar. It varies from year to year, falling in September or October.) During the ten day period prior to the Day of Atonement, Jews amended their behavior, prayed, repented, and gave to charity, in order to seek forgiveness from God.
According to Luke 1:9, Zechariah was chosen by lot to enter the sanctuary to burn incense. The Jewish priests could only enter the Holy of Holies once a year on the Day of Atonement. (See Ex. 30:7-10.) Gabriel says to Zechariah, “Do not be afraid, Zechariah, because your prayer has been heard. Your wife Elizabeth will bear you a son, and you shall name him John.” (Luke 1:13)
So, here is the timeline:
September 25 – Gabriel announces the birth of John the Baptist to Zechariah.
March 25 (six months from September 25) – Gabriel announces the birth of Jesus to Mary.
June 24 (nine months from September 25) – the Church celebrates the birth of John the Baptist.
December 25 (nine months from March 25) – the Church celebrates the birth of Jesus.
Yesterday was the Second Sunday of Advent, so my husband lighted two candles after I read the prayer. In another week, he will light three candles, and finally during the last week of Advent, he will light four candles every evening until Christmas.
While the days are growing shorter and darker outside, the light is still increasing. Inside, my table-top trees light up the house. Outside, every evening more and more Christmas lights appear in the neighborhood. While we await the Nativity of Jesus once again, He is already here.
As Thanksgiving Day approaches, I’m thinking of all the people who will be alone during the upcoming holidays. After I was orphaned as a teenager, I was alone for many years, even when I was surrounded by people. I know how it feels to be alone. Holidays were the worst.
Whoever you are, and wherever you are, I will be praying for you. If hope eludes you, please know that I will be hoping on your behalf.
If you believe in God, I encourage you to pray for yourself and others. If you don’t believe in God, I encourage you to pray as if youdid.
St. Teresa of Avila’s Bookmark:
Let nothing disturb you;
Let nothing frighten you.
All things pass;
God never changes.
Patience obtains all things.
The one who has God
God alone suffices.
In the market today, I overheard a customer asking the clerk if people were honoring the face mask requirement. “Everyone is so done with face masks, and everyone is in a bad mood,” she replied. (In spite of her comments, everyone was wearing a mask, including the clerk.)
The face mask hadn’t bothered me, but I had been in a bad mood for a few days. Things that didn’t help:
Every year in my Discalced Carmelite Secular Community, we draw names to pray for each other and to pray for the priests, deacons, and religious in our diocese. We also draw the name of a virtue to practice during the year. For the last three years, I have drawn the virtue of fortitude. The first year, I thought, that’sinteresting. The second year, I thought, what a coincidence! This year, when I drew it again, I realized that I needed to give the virtue of fortitude some serious thought.
Pondering this virtue, I used to think of it in relation to the unpleasant tasks I needed to complete. Don’t give up, I would tell myself. Practice fortitude! Now, as my husband and I, along with so many others, must ‘shelter in place’ to avoid the Coronavirus, I realize that fortitude also pertains to all the things we would like to do but can’t, at least for the foreseeable future. In a way, ‘sheltering in place’ is a desert experience. We are separated from all the unnecessary activities with which we often distract ourselves.
The cacti in my garden practice fortitude better than I have ever done. In recent years, I have not paid much attention to them in favor of whatever was blooming in the garden. Yet, they have continued to survive, and even to thrive.
A couple of decades ago while on a family visit to Wisconsin, I stumbled upon a lovely crucifix in an antique store. The entire piece is hand-carved from a single piece of olive wood, and it’s only six inches tall. I couldn’t believe my luck when I bought it for a song! Over the years I have owned several crucifixes, but this one has always been my favorite. I marvel at the skill of the unknown artist, but even more at the artist’s obvious love for the Crucified Lord, as demonstrated in the detail and beauty of the carving. I have no idea how old it is. Perhaps the artist is already in heaven, smiling down every time I take it off the wall and hold it in my hands while I say my prayers.
In Southern New Mexico, most farmers still use the ancient method of flood irrigation to water their fields and pecan groves. The Rio Grande River runs from north to south down the center of the state before turning east and forming part of the border between Texas and Mexico. Water is pumped from the river or wells into the mother canals and from there into smaller canals. The farmers open their gates along the way, and water rushes into the fields and floods the land.
This reminds me of St. Teresa of Avila’s analogy of the four ways that she obtained the waters of grace in prayer. In the first, she had to exert a lot of effort to draw water from the well to water the garden of her soul. In the second, devices such as the crank of a water wheel or an aqueduct allowed her to obtain more grace with less effort. (God’s help became more apparent.) In the third, her garden was irrigated with flowing water from a river or spring. (She became even more aware of God’s grace in prayer.) And finally, the Lord poured an abundance of grace on the garden of her soul with no effort on her part at all. (See The Book of Her Life, Chapter 11 et al.)
Since our gardens always need water, may God grant us the
grace to continue in prayer when it requires a lot of effort. And may He grant us the wisdom to open our
gates when He abundantly offers His gifts.
In my garden, there is a shady corner. It’s a place of refuge from the scorching sun and dusty winds.
In my daily life, the time I spend in prayer is my shady corner. There, I can let go of my cares and distractions, or at least, I can try to. I can ask pardon for my failings and experience the peace that comes from acknowledging them. I can pray for the people I love, and I can pray for the world. Best of all, I can simply enjoy the presence of the Lord who never leaves those who love Him and seek Him with a sincere heart.