Every year, at the beginning of December, I tell myself that this year, Advent will be a peaceful season of preparation. I plan time for daily prayer, resolve to say no to as many social engagements as I can reasonably get away with, and make plans for simple gifts and Christmas gatherings with friends and family.
But I am mom to a large family. Even a simple Christmas times eight children, multiple Godchildren, and extended family can add up to a whole lot of stress and chaos pretty quickly.
One afternoon during the week before Christmas, I found myself in the midst of that stress and chaos. I was giving my son a ride to basketball practice while taking a work call on my cell phone, with a thousand to-do’s running through my head: Grocery shopping, gifts to buy and mail, dinner to plan and prepare, and the undecorated tree that stood in our living room, awaiting my attention.
When I ended my call and stopped at a traffic light, I noticed a small sticker on the bumper of the car in front of me:
“Wise men still seek him” it read, next to a silhouette of three kings.
I smiled at the reminder of what the Christmas season is truly about, said a quick prayer for peace and perspective, and reminded myself that there was still plenty of time to celebrate Christmas.
Despite the dozens of trees you might see dumped on curbsides on December 26, the Christmas season does not end until at least the feast of the Epiphany on January 6. (And even longer if you follow the older tradition, where the season lasts until Candlemas on February 2.) The Epiphany celebrates Christ revealing himself to the world as God’s own son, and in Western churches it is linked with the visit of the “three wise men,” Magi or kings, who traveled a great distance, following a star, to find Baby Jesus after He was born.
“Lo, the star which they had seen in the east went before them, till it came to rest over the place where the child was. When they saw the star, they rejoiced exceedingly with great joy; and going into the house they saw the child with Mary his mother, and they fell down and worshiped him. Then, opening their treasures, they offered him gifts, gold and frankincense and myrrh.” – Matthew 2:9-11
One of my friends has a tradition of removing the three kings from her nativity set, and setting them up somewhere in her living room, some distance from the manger, beginning on Christmas Day. Each morning of the twelve days that follow, the children awake to discover that the kings have traveled a little bit closer to Baby Jesus, until at last, on Epiphany, they arrive.
I like this tradition as a tangible way to teach our children and remind ourselves of the significance of the journey of the three kings and the meaningful gifts they brought to Jesus. I remember wondering as a young girl years ago about the value of bringing frankincense, gold, and myrrh to a newborn baby. Wouldn’t He prefer a blanket or a toy? But the gifts the Magi brought remind us of Jesus’ identity.
Gold, a gift fit for a royalty, remind us that Jesus is a king. Frankincense, an incense burned in worship, reminds us that Jesus is God. And finally, myrrh, an aromatic resin used in burial, reminds us of the purpose of Jesus’ coming: He came to die for our sins and to save us.
The romantic story of three kings who follow a star to find a king, God made man, hidden away in Bethlehem, can inspire us to reflect on our own journeys. Where are we traveling? What are we seeking? What star will we follow? And what gifts do we bring?
The feast of the Epiphany was a very inspiring one to St. Elizabeth Ann Seton as well. Her decision to convert to Catholicism came soon after reading and reflecting on a sermon about the three wise men seeking their savior, a quest she saw as parallel to her own quest for the one true Church.
“Alas, where is my star?” St. Elizabeth wrote to a friend after reading the sermon, “I seek but God and his church and expect to find my peace in them.” She was received into the Catholic Church two months later on March 14, 1805.
When we seek God, we find him. And Mother Seton did. She found God, the truth, and the one true Church in her seeking.
This Epiphany, I am pausing to recall the three kings’ journey to find their savior long ago, and reflecting on my own journey and gifts. As I rush through busy days of family life, work, and school schedules, what star do I follow? What star do I teach my children to look for? Are we focused on God’s will for our lives, or are we distracted by lesser “stars” of media, status, and material goods? In what ways can we better acknowledge Jesus as our King, our God, and our Savior in the coming year?
The twelve days of Christmas are an invitation to visit Baby Jesus. Wise men still seek Him, and when we seek, we find. We can find Him, lying in a manger bed, wrapped in swaddling clothes. We can smell the straw and breathe the cold night air. We can hold Baby Jesus in our arms and praise him as our King, God, and Savior. We can bring Him our gifts, and receive from Him the gifts of salvation, peace, and lasting joy.
DANIELLE BEAN is the brand manager for CatholicMom.com and former publisher and editor-in-chief of Catholic Digest. Danielle is author of several books for women including Momnipotent, You’re Worth It! and her newest book, You Are Enough. She is also creator and host of the Girlfriends podcast and a popular speaker on a variety of subjects related to Catholic family life, parenting, marriage, and the spirituality of motherhood. Learn more at DanielleBean.com.