What day is Christmas? It’s a delightful thing to think about. Easter, tied to the celebration of Passover, occurs each year on Sunday. But Christmas, tied to Dec. 25, is not set on a particular day of the week. This year, Christmas Day falls on a Sunday. The last time Christmas Day fell on Sunday was 2016. But it won’t be until 2033 that Christmas falls on a Sunday again.
When Christmas falls on a Sunday, two remarkable things happen.
First, we end up with an extra tie to the Lord’s Paschal Mystery. When Christmas falls on a Sunday, it points to our weekly remembrance of Christ’s suffering and death. This weekly remembrance, which we observe at Sunday Mass, is a constant reminder that Christ has paid for our sins with his blood.
At Christmas, there are many little signs that this child was born to save his people. He is named Jesus, which we are told in the Gospel means that “he will save his people from their sins” (Mt 1:21). He is wrapped in swaddling clothes, symbolizing the linen that will shroud his body in death. The gifts given by the Magi are spices used in preparing a body for burial. The wood of the manger points to the wood of the cross.
So this Christmas that we are preparing to celebrate is a special remembrance that this child was born for our salvation. The Virgin Mary and Jesus knew this. They knew God’s plan of love. This fact gives us extra cause for rejoicing in their assent to God’s plan.
The second remarkable aspect of Christmas falling on a Sunday is that this means that we as a Christian people get to observe four full weeks of Advent. Viewed in the right light, it’s as if we’ve been given the gift of more time. A precious few days to prepare our hearts and minds to kneel again at the child’s crib in Bethlehem.
The liturgy for this Fourth Week of Advent gives pride of place to the Virgin Mary. St. John Henry Newman tells us: “It is Mary’s prerogative to be the Morning Star, which heralds in the sun. She does not shine for herself, or from herself, but she is the reflection of her and our redeemer, and she glorifies him. When she appears in the darkness, we know that he is close at hand.” The mystery of Christmas begins in the heart and mind of the Virgin Mary. She was the first to receive Christ, the first to hear his saving message.
This final week of Advent, then, is a moment for us to recall the Virgin Mary’s great Advent virtues. We can imitate her trust in God when she assents to his plan. If things don’t go exactly the way we want them to this Christmas season, we should trust like the Virgin Mary. We ought to follow her example of humility, adopting lowliness and simplicity in the midst of hectic holiday plans and schedules. And we should try to find moments for quiet contemplation, in imitation of her, who “kept all these things, reflecting on them in her heart” (Lk 2:19).
But perhaps the greatest virtue of the Virgin Mary for us to foster in our precious Fourth Week of Advent is her wonder. Ephrem the Syrian (d. 373) writes, “Come, let us wonder at the virgin most pure, wondrous in herself, unique in creation, she gave birth, yet knew no man; her pure soul with wonder was filled, daily her mind gave praise in joy at the twofold wonder: her virginity preserved, her child most dear. Blessed is he who shone forth from her!” Ephrem’s poetry draws us into the wonder that fills the Virgin Mary’s heart — wonder marked not by doubt, but by awe. This final week of Advent, may we nourish and renew that wonder which the Virgin Mary offers to us.
Father Patrick Briscoe, OP, is editor of Our Sunday Visitor. Follow him on Twitter @PatrickMaryOP.