There is no other holiday with as many traditions surrounding it as Christmas. Setting up Christmas trees, decorating with lights, caroling and exchanging gifts are all a part of what makes this the most beloved holiday for so many of us. All these traditions can help us to celebrate what Christmas is really about - the birth of our Savior, Jesus.
Since Christmas is celebrated throughout the world, every country has developed its own stories and traditions around the holiday.
One interesting Christmas tradition comes from Italy. It is the legend of the Befana. As the story is told, Befana was a woman who kept a very clean house and was always hospitable to strangers. So when the wise men were making their way to Bethlehem to see the Christ child, they spent a night at her home. Because she was so kind to them, they asked her if she wanted to join them to see the baby Jesus. However, she said that she was too busy with her chores around the house to go on the trip. Later, she regretted not going along with them and so every Epiphany night she goes out to visit every home with small children in it leaving gifts in hopes of finding the Christ child.
Like many children’s stories, the legend of the Befana has much to teach us in today’s fast pace world. Just as the decorating and gift giving surrounding Christmas can help us celebrate Jesus’ birth, it can also distract us from what is most important. All the busy work we fill our days with can keep us from taking the opportunity to go out and meet the Christ child who comes to save us.
In today’s society, we value keeping busy. When we have a lot to do, we feel needed and important. But all the busyness of today’s world is also a way of avoiding reality. Just as an alcoholic drinks to avoid dealing with his problems, so we often keep ourselves busy to avoid dealing with issues we may be having in our relationships or with painful emotions we may be feeling. If we are feeling ragged and irritable or if we are feeling unappreciated, it is important for us to make some time to look at why we are so busy and whether what we are filling our time with is really as important as it seems. Most especially, we must take a good hard look at what we may be trying to avoid and what we may be missing out on.
The wise men are a good example for us. They were obviously highly educated, wealthy and important men. They would have had many responsibilities in their native lands. However, when the star announcing Jesus’ birth appeared in the sky, they dropped everything to follow it. They understood that nothing was as important as finding the newborn King of the Jews. They were not going to let other responsibilities keep them from seeking out the Christ child.
If we look at ourselves honestly we would have to admit that none of us here today is as important as those wise men were. None of us is as busy as they were with all the responsibilities they would have had in their countries. If they were able to make the time for a long, dangerous journey through the desert to seek out Jesus, what is our excuse for not spending time every day seeking him out ourselves?
We may not be as important or as wealthy as the Magi were, but we can be as wise if we seek out the Christ child. In our case, we do not have to travel across the desert to a far off land to find Him, for He is already among us. We only have to train ourselves to recognize Him. The only way to do that, however, is to make time for prayer everyday and for reading the Bible. Then we must make time to serve Jesus in the poor and needy. And, finally, we must receive the sacraments, especially Reconciliation and Eucharist, as frequently as possible.
It takes time, and often time is what we have the least of. But whatever we give to God will be given back to us many times over. When we make time for prayer, we will find that we have more time for ourselves. As we grow closer to Jesus, we will be more focused on what is really important in life and will make better use of our time. Though the wise men left very expensive gifts at the feet of Jesus, they nonetheless felt richer for having seen the Savior of the World. In the same way, we will find our lives blessed and fulfilled many times over for making the time to seek out our Lord.
We are here today because we seek the Lord. We have left our homes to gather together and celebrate His birth. Like the wise men we acknowledge Him as our King and God. With the angels, we proclaim His glory. And like so many women and men who have found Him, we know that our lives can never be the same. We will receive the Body and Blood of Christ who was born, died and rose again to save us. Now we must continue to seek Him out every day until He comes again.