We begin the calendar year with great Christmastide feasts – Mary, Mother of God, the Epiphany (which this year is kept on the Sunday, 7 January) and then the Baptism of the Lord. These feasts remind us that the Christmas season is exactly that – a period of time, not just a one-day wonder!
Just as the weeks of Advent helped prepare us for the coming of the Lord at the end of time – which was the theme of the first three weeks of Advent, and is also called the Parousia – and then to celebrate the coming of the Lord in the history of the people of Israel and of the world (from 17 December until Christmas Day itself ), so these weeks after Christmas Day enable us to reflect upon the wonder of the star which we have seen, the song of 'Glory to God in the highest' which we have heard, and the child whom we too have embraced and in whose birth we are made glad.
It is also a moment when we can respond to that most fundamental of all questions, 'And what difference does it make?'. Fundamentally, we can with surety reply, 'All the difference in the world' – this is also what we sing on the night of the Easter Vigil in the Exultet:
'What good would life have been to us, had Christ not come as our Redeemer?' The birth of Jesus, his life and teaching, his death and resurrection – all these events are caught up in this one wondrous proclamation.
And as John 3:16 reminds us: 'God so loved the world that he gave his only Son so that whoever believes in Him may not perish but have eternal life.'
The gift who is the Word made Flesh transforms our lives into lives that look towards God to find their ultimate purpose and dignity, and towards the world to find that place where the proclamation of the love of God must be translated into acts and works of charity and kindness. What, we may ask, is the reason for this hope and purpose for our daily living, faithful to the example and command of the Lord Jesus?
It is because we acknowledge in the words of Pope Leo the Great that we read on Christmas night in the Office of Readings a fundamental truth which makes each of us a bearer of God's goodness and God's Word to others: 'O Christian, be aware of your nobility! It is God's own life that you share.'
Advent and Christmastide have invited us to be a people of HOPE and of VISION. These attitudes for life are closely linked to the feasts we have celebrated over these last days; may we bear the fruit of these virtues in our daily living in the weeks and months ahead in this new Year of the Lord, 2018.