There was one Christmas break when I was in high school when I was particularly bored. Not wanting to get into any trouble, I decided to pick up a new hobby. For reasons that only God knows, I decided to begin my short-lived career as an amateur magician.
(In the interest of full disclosure, everything that I did was sleight of hand. No magic was actually involved.)
I absolutely loved performing magic tricks for people. Whether it was showing my mom a new trick while she was preparing dinner or doing a small show at a children’s birthday party, it was something truly life-giving for me. It was beautiful to see everyone from my grandfather to my baby sisters light up with joy and amazement as I fooled them with (sometimes elaborate) illusions. The work and the time that went into practicing my magic tricks was worth it because I saw how the wonder and awe that they elicited touched on something truly beautiful about the human experience.
Now, you will notice that I talk about doing magic tricks in the past. Although I can still pull them out every once in a while, it was clear very early on that I would not be able to make a successful career out of being a magician. That’s because I didn’t follow one of the fundamental rules of the trade.
Everyone knows that “a magician never reveals his secret.” But there is another rule that is almost just as important: you should never do the same magic trick twice.
You see, it makes a lot of sense. An important part of creating the illusion is the fact that the audience doesn’t know what is going to happen. An object might appear or disappear, it might reappear somewhere unexpected, or maybe the point of the trick wasn’t about that object at all. The element of surprise is key to a successful magic trick.
But once the audience knows the end of the trick, they are watching much more closely to see how you get from point A to point B. They’re watching every movement and no longer paying attention to the words or movements that were intended to distract them. It’s much easier for them to figure out the trick.
Once an audience has figured out the trick, the magic is gone. There is no more wonder and awe. Suddenly they are not amazed. They just say, “Oh, I get it,” and move on with their lives.
I was thinking about this recently as I was reflecting on how difficult it is to celebrate the full season of Christmas, which Catholics celebrate all the way until the Feast of the Baptism of Jesus, which is on January 12th this year.
When we are children, we are full of wonder and awe. In so many ways, it is a “magical” time. Everything is surprising. We hear the story of Christmas for the first time, hanging on every detail about the Holy Family. Every year it is amazing to see the presents under the tree. Seeing family come together is new and beautiful and reveals to us something new about how much we are loved. Few things compare to celebrating Christmas as a child.
But as we grow older, we lose our sense of wonder and awe. Nothing surprises us about Christmas anymore because we know what is going to happen. Year after year, we see the same people, we hang the same decorations, and we hear the same Gospel read at Christmas Mass. Jesus is born, we say, “Oh, I get it,” and we move on with our lives when December 26th comes.
But friends, there is nothing more amazing in this world than the fact that the God of the universe came down from heaven and became one of us. God did not merely live among us, but he united himself totally to us so that we could become one with him. The one who made the entire universe became a little child, vulnerable and dependent on others. He entered into this world knowing that he would die, and yet he did it because he loves us.
There is nothing mundane or predictable about that.
Right now we are only a few days into the Christmas season. Now is the perfect time to ask the Lord for the grace to be amazed by the incredible gift that we began celebrating on December 25th. That gift of wonder and awe gives us the joy of being surprised by the love that the Lord has for us, restoring us in our identity as his children. And that’s a gift we all need this Christmas.
Last year, I was praying in the chapel in one of our book centers during the Christmas season when a little girl who was about three years old walked in with her mother. Before her mother even knew what was happening, the little girl sprinted away from her, right up to our altar, where we had set up a nativity scene. The little girl reached down, picked baby Jesus out of the manger, turned around and held him up. “I found him!” she proudly told her mother, “I found Jesus!”
During these next few weeks, may we be surprised and amazed by the reality of Christmas. Let us leave the Christmas tree up, let us drink our coffee by the nativity scene, and continue to dress up for Mass. Over and over again, may we look at baby Jesus and breathe a sigh of wonder and relief as we realize how close he is to us. May we praise God as we say, “I found him. I found Jesus.”
by Cecilia Cicone, novice