The day after the Solemnity of the Baptism of the Lord, I took down our Christmas tree. Every year, our family buys a real Christmas tree, so every year the process is the same. At some point during Advent, it is selected and purchased from our local tree stand. It is carried in the door and greeted with the kind of glee that only small children are capable of.
The day after that final Sunday of the Christmas season, it is taken down and put on the curb for yard waste pickup. And every year, my middle daughter is heartbroken.
“Mommy, do we have to take Bob down today?” (She names the Christmas tree “Bob” every year and has a complicated theory which claims that they are just the same Bob, miraculously returning fresh each year.)
“Yes, we do. Yesterday was the last day of the Christmas season, and the tree is shedding needles everywhere because it’s so dried out.”
She’ll respond, “But…but…I don’t want to take him down yet. He’s my best friend! Are you sure we can’t leave him up? Or maybe you could put him in the backyard for me to play with?”
This year, we discovered a video that she had recorded. In the video, she spans from the tree on the curb to her disappointed face. “I’m kind of sad,” she tells the camera. “Because he was an old friend.”
Although we aren’t all as imaginative and dramatic as my six-year-old, we all do struggle (at least a little bit) with the transition from the excitement and the bustle of the holidays back to ordinary life. Our spiritual lives are no exception. It is much easier to get caught up in the excitement of the newborn in the manger or in the drama of Christ’s passion than it is to get excited about the Fourth Sunday in Ordinary Time.
Yet, there is a value in the ordinariness of Ordinary Time. After all, of the thirty-three years of Jesus’s life, thirty of those years were very, very ordinary. Although it was extraordinary in the sense that those years were lived out by God-made-man, they were ordinary in the sense that they consisted of the same sorts of things that our days consist of. Jesus worked, prayed, played, ate, slept, and everything else that normal human beings do. He was, after all, like us in all things but sin.
Most of those years were lived in a simple home, in a simple (but holy) family in Nazareth. Although the teachings of Christ are certainly important, equally important is the life he led and how he chose to spend his time. He could have chosen to spend those thirty years in any number of ways. He could have ordained it so that he would grow up in the Temple, for example. He could have chosen to have been born into a royal family. He didn’t choose either. He chose the humble family and ordinary way of life that he did for a reason — to show us the sanctity of ordinary family life.
Since I spend my days with my three young children, I can easily relate to one of my favorite quotes from G.K. Chesterton. Chesterton speaks of God’s delight in the ordinary when he writes,
Because children have abounding vitality, because they are in spirit fierce and free, therefore they want things repeated and unchanged. They always say, “Do it again”; and the grown-up person does it again until he is nearly dead. For grown-up people are not strong enough to exult in monotony. But perhaps God is strong enough to exult in monotony. It is possible that God says every morning, “Do it again” to the sun; and every evening, “Do it again” to the moon. It may not be automatic necessity that makes all daisies alike; it may be that God makes every daisy separately, but has never got tired of making them. It may be that He has the eternal appetite of infancy; for we have sinned and grown old, and our Father is younger than we.— Gilbert Keith Chesterton, Orthodoxy
Most of us instinctively seek out the next exciting thing. Whether it’s climbing a mountain or buying a new book, we’re always seeking a change in our existence. Yet, God does not change. He is the same from all eternity. It is fitting that, when God became man, he would spend most of those years in Nazareth. It is fitting that his days were a repetition of the same activities, over and over again, just as most of our days are.
This, too, is the grace of Ordinary Time. It is uncomfortable for us to sit in silence or to feel bored. It is easier to distract ourselves and to seek out experiences that make us feel happy or excited or interested. Yet, in Ordinary Time, we are invited to set aside our need for excitement in order to enter into the quiet, ordinary life of Nazareth. We are called to contemplate the ways that Jesus entered fully into our ordinary existence, and to be drawn into the mystery of the holiness that is to be found there.
image: Flight into Egypt from the Mühlhausener Altar, Bramberg Cathedral (c. 1500) / Wikimedia Commons (Public Domain)
You can learn more about the Liturgical Calendar, and how to learn its lessons with your children, in the books The Year & Our Children: Catholic Family Celebrations For Every Season by Mary Reed Newland, as well as Around the Year with the von Trapp Family.