As an American, my Christmas season starts on the fourth Thursday in November.
Thereafter, front yards bask in the glow of neon reindeer and electric snowmen, while a spirit of unbridled consumerism sweeps the land.
I could expound on the decadence of Archie McPhee’s Yodelling Pickle. Or perhaps rail against the Encased Face Mask Funny Bearded Holiday Santa Costume for Adults — sold by the pack.
I could, but I won’t. Not much, anyway.
The Yodelling Pickle and Funny Bearded Santa Costume are real, by the way. I found them on Amazon.com this week.1
But I’ll grant that spending above and beyond the call of reason is a bad idea. And that yodeling pickles are far less important than, say, food and shelter.
On the other hand, I don’t think Archie McPhee’s Yodelling Pickle constitutes a threat to humanity; or even to American society. Not by itself. And that’s another topic.2
Let’s see, where was I?
Being an American, Macy’s big parade, yodeling pickles and and not panicking. Right.
My country’s Christmas season starts with a parade in New York City, and ends about a month later: somewhere between the day after Christmas and the following weekend.
I’m not thrilled when the lights go out. But complaining about my culture’s timetable makes about as much sense as fretting over the prevalence of Easter Bunnies.
As a Catholic, my Christmas season starts December 25. We keep celebrating until the Feast of the Baptism of the Lord. That’s tomorrow.
I don’t remember anyone putting it this way, but tomorrow’s celebration marks the Christmas season’s third “aha!” moment. Recapping, briefly:
“Now there were shepherds in that region living in the fields and keeping the night watch over their flock.
“The angel of the Lord appeared to them and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were struck with great fear.
“The angel said to them, ‘Do not be afraid; for behold, I proclaim to you good news of great joy that will be for all the people.
“For today in the city of David a savior has been born for you who is Messiah and Lord.”
“When Jesus was born in Bethlehem of Judea, in the days of King Herod, behold, magi from the east arrived in Jerusalem,
“saying, ‘Where is the newborn king of the Jews? We saw his star at its rising and have come to do him homage.’”
“It happened in those days that Jesus came from Nazareth of Galilee and was baptized in the Jordan by John.
“On coming up out of the water he saw the heavens being torn open and the Spirit, like a dove, descending upon him.
“And a voice came from the heavens, ‘You are my beloved Son; with you I am well pleased.’”
Before 1955, we celebrated this Sunday’s feast last Sunday, as part of Epiphany: which means “aha!” — the sort of abrupt understanding that inspired Archimedes’ “eureka!” and that’s yet another topic.
At any rate, responses to those “aha” moments varied.
The shepherds followed the angel’s instructions, and paid their respects to their newborn Messiah and Lord.
Herod ordered a mass murder.
And John the Baptist balked. But then he followed instructions.
“John tried to prevent him, saying, ‘I need to be baptized by you, and yet you are coming to me?’
“Jesus said to him in reply, ‘Allow it now, for thus it is fitting for us to fulfill all righteousness.’ Then he allowed him.”
I can see John the Baptist’s point. He’d been ‘preparing the way of the Lord,’ and baptizing folks as they acknowledged their sins. (Matthew 3:6)
And here was the Lord: asking to be baptized. Small wonder John balked.3
Briefly reviewing who’s who —
St. John the Baptist was an itinerant preacher, a prophet and pretty much the opposite of America’s slick televangelists. In appearance and lifestyle, at any rate.
“John wore clothing made of camel’s hair and had a leather belt around his waist. His food was locusts and wild honey.”
The crowd he attracted was, I gather, a mixed lot: from the era’s Boston Brahmin analogs on down. And that’s yet again another topic.4
Jesus of Nazareth was an itinerant preacher, too; but our Lord is also — unique.
John’s Gospel sums it up nicely:
“In the beginning was the Word,
and the Word was with God,
and the Word was God.”
So how come Jesus needed to be baptized?
Baptism is important. It’s one of the sacraments of Christian initiation, along with Confirmation and the Eucharist. It makes entering the kingdom of God an option for me. (Catechism, 1212ff)
Like I said, important. For me.
But why would Jesus be baptized?
He’s already the Second Person in the Trinity, so initiation isn’t an issue.
Basically, our Lord became one of us as part of a rescue mission. By his baptism, Jesus was identifying himself with sinners: starting his public ministry with a memorable and significant event. His baptism with water also prefigured his baptism by blood; and, as our Lord said, it was a good idea — so that he would “fulfill all righteousness.” (Matthew 3:15; Catechism, 512ff; esp. 528, 535-537)
Which Jesus did: by being executed. Then, a few days later, our Lord stopped being dead: something we’ll celebrate during Easter.5 Which is still another topic.
And the best news humanity’s ever had:
- “Epiphany, the Magi and Me: The Big Aha!”
(January 1, 2022)
- “Jesus, Human on His Mother’s Side: the Incarnation”
(December 25, 2021)
- “Advent 2021: Another Year of Our Long Watch”
(December 4, 2021)
- “Jesus, the Ultimate Alpha: a Personal View”
(April 4, 2021)
- “Something Wonderful”
(April 9, 2020)
- Weird gift ideas on Amazon.com
- Evangelii Gaudium, Chapter Two, I, 60
Pope Francis, (2013)
- My view, in part
- A Brief History of the Boston Brahmin
New England Historical Society