Lent, Like Christmas, is the Season of the Divine Infant

It’s natural for infants to be meek and humble of heart; only by God’s grace can we become adults who are meek and humble of heart.

Martin Feuerstein, “Adoration of the Shepherds,” 1891
Martin Feuerstein, “Adoration of the Shepherds,” 1891 (photo: Public Domain)

It’s been my family’s longtime tradition to leave the Christmas decorations up until after the Feast of the Presentation of the Lord. Well, the Presentation has passed, and our decorations still are up and probably will be for quite some time yet. I'll be on the road for most of the month of February and won't be able to get to it until my trips have been completed. In the meantime, Lent is fast approaching, which seems like a crazy impossibility given our current decor.

Regardless, Ash Wednesday is only a couple of weeks away and I know I should have all my Lenten resolutions lined up and ready to go. That's a little tough with the Christmas tree sparkling away, the Three Kings worshiping the Christ Child in the manger, and my little stuffed Santa staring at me from the shelf in my bookcase. On the other hand, there's an odd sense of continuity about the whole thing. During the Christmas season, we celebrate the Incarnation which took place so that the Tiny Baby in the stable could one day suffer his Passion and Crucifixion so that we might be redeemed. Our Lord’s purpose and mission was from the Crib to the Cross.

For that reason, I'm actually finding it fruitful to meditate on the creche and other Christmas decorations as I consider how God is calling me to spend this Lent. There was a lifetime of events between Jesus's birth and death. Christmas and Easter didn't just pop up on the calendar as separate occasions. Jesus “advanced [in] wisdom and age and favor before God and man,” (see Luke 2:52) , gave 30 years in love and service in the Holy Family, called the Apostles and worked closely with them as he taught, preached, prayed, and healed those who came to him. Jesus’s life was one of hard work, sacrifice, sadness, but also joy. His is a simple, humble life reflected in a heart that is meek and humble and ready to give all for the Kingdom.

He told his followers, “Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am meek and humble of heart; and you will find rest for yourselves” (see Matthew 11:29). Our Lord modeled for us the kind of life we must lead and the kind of heart we must have. Jesus’s followers called themselves Christians, not because they’d joined a noteworthy organization, but rather because they knew their main task – perhaps their only task – was to imitate Christ in all his actions and attitudes. It’s easy to think of an infant as being meek and humble of heart; it takes contemplation to truly understand what it's like to be an adult who is meek and humble of heart.

This idea of a continuum appeals to me because it leads me to consider focusing less this Lent on the way Jesus died than the way he lived. I want to choose resolutions that will help me to become more like the meek and humble Child who grew into a meek and humble man who gave his life for my sake. Of course, there must be penance, fasting and almsgiving as the Church teaches us. But I want it to be more than that. I want it to be more than just “giving up” something to satisfy my Lenten commitment. I want it to be something life-changing, something that will help me to advance in wisdom and favor before God in imitation of my Savior. I want to grow spiritually from an infant to a mature Christian adult.

I believe that sitting in prayer before the Nativity scene surrounded by all the lights, garlands and glitter would help me do that. For now, I’m delighted that we haven't taken our Christmas decorations down yet and I’m leaning toward leaving them up until Ash Wednesday or longer. I might even place a crucifix in the manger beside Little Jesus to remind me of the entire life that was surrendered for me.