If there is any image that captures this time of year perfectly, it’s the sad sight of a Christmas tree dumped by the curb.
You see them all over the city. I walked by a bunch of them Friday while on the way to work in Manhattan: piles of them, some with limp strands of tinsel still clinging to a few needles. You could still smell that bracing, Christmas scent of pine.
And these days as you go along, you see people pulling down wreaths from the front door, or throwing poinsettias in the dumpster or unplugging lights wrapped around lampposts or strung around doorframes.
On the subway, I saw a lot of people Friday with suitcases, heading to the train station or the airport after extending the holiday another week.
There’s no mistaking it. Christmas is coming to a close.
It is tempting to wrap up our sentiments with the decorations – to put away the good feelings of the season along with the “elf on a shelf” or the holiday ornaments.
But just when we thought it was over, along comes Epiphany.
Just when we thought it was time to get on with our lives and face the cold hard reality of winter…along come the magi, strangers from the East, with the question that hangs over this last Christmas moment, a question suspended in its own way like the silver star over our altar.
“Where is the newborn king of the Jews?”
If our answer is “Wrapped in tissue paper in a box in the basement”…well, wrong answer.
Where is the newborn king of the Jews?
Where have we put Jesus Christ since Christmas?
In the popular imagination, the Christmas season is a time for sentiment, and family, and sudden bursts of generosity. We feel the urge to slip on an apron and bake – or maybe even give gifts to strangers, or volunteer at a soup kitchen, or send an extra check to a favorite charity. We give tips to the doorman and wish “Merry Christmas” to strangers, and offer warm greetings to people we normally would go out of our way to avoid. We cry at the end of “It’s A Wonderful Life” and feel a lump in our throat when Ebenezer Scrooge embraces Tiny Tim, and remember for a short burst of time what this season is about.
But so often, when the decorations come down, so does our good will. Christmas is over. The holiday is done. Vacation is finished. It’s back to the daily grind.
Maybe this is why the magi appears on the scene here and now.
We need to be asked, now more than ever: where is the newborn king of the Jews?
Where is Jesus Christ in our world? In our hearts? In our lives?
Have we forgotten the deeper meaning of this season? Have we lost track of Jesus?
The magi, the gospel tells us, had to search for him. The newborn king wasn’t where they expected him to be. They didn’t find him in a palace, among royalty. They had to go outside the city, and travel further, to an out-of-the-way place, guided by the light of a star. And there they found him, in a humble setting, with only his mother. Scripture tells us he came into a world that had no room for him, and that his first bed wasn’t a bed at all, but a manger. He came into a world that didn’t plan for him, or welcome him, and lived his first days among strangers.
Sometimes, Jesus isn’t where we expect him to be.
Which leads us to ask, in a more personal way: with the holidays ending, and the sentiment of the season fading, what is left?
Where is Jesus in our lives?
This is a time to put away the ornaments and the lights. It’s not a time to put away Christ.
This is a time to remember what his coming meant to our world – and to hold on to the sense of charity, and generosity, and wonder, and joy that are all the hallmarks of the Christmas season. How many times last month did we hear the phrase, “Keep Christ in Christmas.” Well, that’s just the beginning. We need to keep him in every day, in every season.
So this weekend…remember.
Remember what we felt over the last two weeks.
Remember why Christ came into the world.
Remember that what began in a manger ended on a cross.
Remember the One who is at the center of it all.
And remember: God’s intervention in human history — the event we celebrated two Sundays ago — changed everything.
Two thousand years ago, Jesus was marginalized in his birth—pushed aside into a stable. He shouldn’t be marginalized in our lives today. Now that the celebration of his birth has ended, Christ’s presence in our lives shouldn’t be discarded or forgotten about, like a Christmas tree left at the curb.
The question of the magi is the question all of us have to answer – and answer for. Not just this Sunday, Epiphany, but every day.
Where is the newborn king of the Jews?
Where have we put Jesus in our world?