By Shemaiah Gonzalez
IN OUR FAMILY, we leave the Christmas tree and decorations up until the Epiphany, the feast day celebrating the visitation of the Wise Men to the Christ Child. The irony isn’t wasted on me, that on the day Christ received gifts from the Magi, I decide to close up shop and end Christmas.
I lug up the Christmas storage boxes from the basement. Carefully, I remove ornaments from Christmases past and a few new ones off the tree and tenderly wrap them into tissue paper, placing them safely in small boxes for next year.
The story of the Magi is mentioned in only one of the Gospels. These men from the East were probably from modern-day Iraq and had followed the star 900 miles to see this King of the Jews. Through these Wise Men, God reveals that Jesus isn’t just for the Jews, but for gentiles too. Gentiles like these Wise Men, and me.
I peel off a few Christmas cards that have been taped onto our living room wall and find one with the Magi presenting their gifts to Christ on the front. Although not mentioned in Scripture, tradition reveals their names as Caspar (or Gaspar), Melchior and Balthasar.
I can imagine them more easily with names: Caspar, sometimes portrayed in art as old and gray, perhaps the wisest of them; while Melchior is middle-aged bearded, perhaps the clever, new intellectual on the scene; and Balthasar, a black Moor, young and wealthy.
I think of their gifts for Christ: gold, a symbol of kingship; frankincense, a symbol of his priesthood; and myrrh, an embalming oil, a reminder of his death to come. A baby born to die.
“What gift would I give to Jesus?” I wonder.
A week ago, I sat down and made a list of resolutions for the New Year. My resolutions are similar each year – lose 10 pounds, run a few 5Ks, save money. At their core, these resolutions are an attempt to be more thoughtful about where I spend my time, energy and money.
I sit down on the couch with the Christmas card. It is an intimate scene. The Wise Men are shown so close to the Christ Child, they could touch him, but they don’t. Rather, they hold out their gifts in awe.
“Lord, what can I give you?” I whisper there on the couch.
Immediately in my heart, I know. I can give Him my frustration. I carry it with me often. My frustration with society, with friends, with my own family. Frustration is a symptom of my judgment of others and my need to control situations.
“Not that!” I gasp to myself.
Then I start to laugh. I even want to hold onto something that constrains me. How freeing would it be to hand this over to Him? But still I cling to it, my desire to be in charge.
I close my eyes, creating my own intimate scene. “Would You take this need? As a gift? Will You help me?” I pray. Sweet peace takes over me, as if He wanted me to ask all along.
I open my eyes to the Christmas card once again. Mary tenderly holds Christ up so the Wise Men can see Him. The infant Christ’s hand is outstretched in a blessing.
That afternoon, when the tree is out at the curb and the storage boxes are back in the basement, I stand at our front door with my husband and our two sons. With chalk blessed by our priest, my husband marks “20 + C + M + B + 18,” the year and the initials of the Wise Men – or “Christus Mansionem Benedicat” (“Christ bless this house”) – over our door with a prayer of blessing for our home this coming year.
I know that trace of chalk will remind me of my gift each day as I leave the house and as I return home. So I can give it, again and again.
Gonzalez is a freelance writer who contributes to Catholic News Service.