My Christmas tree is falling in upon itself. The branches no longer reach out. They bend down, spilling an even deeper sweetness into the room. As I gazed upon the tree last night, with the mini-lights still multicolored and twinkling, it was as though the tree had become solid and whole, no longer made of many parts, many decorations. The tinsel garlands had merged into dim shadowy beds of green needles. The miniature Raggedy Anns that I had strung across the apron of the tree, slept silently in their soft nests. One ornament had been batted down by one of our cats and its shards long ago swept up. But the others had sunk further into the dark hollows and had moved in. Even the star with its sideways tilt seemed happy with this home. The tree was nearly alive.
I have become used to the Christmas tree occupying a corner of the room. My evening routine included lighting the tree so neighbors could see it through our arching windows. But the Twelve Days of Christmastide are nearing an end. I shall have to take the tree down soon. I shall have to remove the mini-churches dangling precariously from bits of wire, the red and gold balls with their fine filigree, the cut glass baubles with their Victorian fringe. I shall pause over each one, thinking when and where it was found or who gave it to me. The tree holds much of my family history, much of my past.
With the turn of the year, as we round the corner and find ourselves in 2014, we turn our hearts and minds as well. We have pondered the old year and now embrace the new. We look ahead; we resolve to be better. We put away childish things, as St. Paul says, and don garments that bear the weight of adulthood, the resiliency of responsibility, the solemnity of choice. How shall we spend our numbered days in 2014?
Those days grow longer, as the thin piercing light of winter takes on the mantle of spring. Already I’ve noticed the extra light, and it’s only been two weeks since the solstice. But the sun is still low in the sky, blinding in the beginnings and endings of the day, as though accusing me with its circle of seeing. I cannot hide in the shadow of winter. I must face the light of Epiphany and the new New Year.
Shadow. Light. In the thin piercing light of the New Year, in the brightness of Epiphany’s traveling star, I resolve to watch and pray. I resolve to listen with greater care to hear God’s voice, discern his will for me. I resolve to begin my day with the aid of prayer and end it with the light of confession, to peer into my heart and expose the shadow. The wise men followed the star because they watched the heavens. They found the manger with its hosts of angels and dazzling light. They fell on their knees and worshiped, offering the Christ Child gold for his kingship, frankincense for his priesthood, and myrrh for his burial. I too want to follow that blazing star to Bethlehem. I too want to offer gifts.
Christina Rossetti (1830-1894) wrote in her poem, “In the Bleak Midwinter”:Angels and archangels may have gathered there, Cherubim and seraphim thronged the air; But His mother only, in her maiden bliss, Worshipped the beloved with a kiss. What can I give Him, poor as I am? If I were a shepherd, I would bring a lamb; If I were a Wise Man, I would do my part; Yet what I can I give Him: give my heart.
Epiphany means “manifestation,” a revealing, and this visit of the gentile kings to the newborn Messiah enlightens the entire world of mankind, embraces all nations and all races. God is made manifest. Now one of us, he gives us a way to partake in his divinity, if we choose to do so. As one of us, taking on our flesh, Christ pulls us to him. With him we rise. With him we open Heaven’s door.
As I take down my Christmas tree, I know that I have been once again reborn in that moment in Bethlehem. Christ is the star that lights the dead tree of our dying world, so that when our own flesh falls in upon itself on the last of our numbered days, we shall “rise to the life eternal.”
Yet what can I give him as I enter this glorious Epiphanytide? It’s so simple. I can give him my heart.