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The simplicity of a birthday

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Quick — light that last purple candle of the Advent wreath before it’s time to clear it off the table to make way for the Christmas centerpiece.

It’s the Fourth Sunday of Advent. But, wait, it’s also Christmas Eve. It feels like Advent got cheated a bit. On Sunday morning we will hear the Gospel of Luke tell us of the Annunciation of our Lord and Mary will give her resounding “Yes.” Later that day, if we attend Christmas Eve Mass, we will hear from St. Matthew’s Gospel about the circumstances surrounding the birth of Christ.

That was the fastest nine months ever — if you’ve seen the new Star Wars movie you may be reminded of traveling at hyperspeed. If your children are paying attention at Mass (sometimes) and are as curious as mine (always), they may wonder what’s up with this speedy version of the Incarnation.

Obviously, Jesus is not actually born again every year. The liturgy recalls for us the pivotal moment of all of history — the moment God became Man. His earthly life is put into motion at the moment He was conceived in Mary’s womb and then revealed to the world at the moment of His birth. We celebrate His birth every year, just like we celebrate every child’s birthday. This obviously will beg the question, “Why don’t we have birthday cake for Jesus?” The answer is, “That’s a great idea. Let’s get baking. Do you think Jesus is a vanilla or chocolate fan?”

Actually, having birthday cake for Jesus and singing “Happy Birthday”to Him is a great teaching moment for children. A perfect time for this is right after you go to Christmas Mass. Your kids will love this tradition. One parish priest we had who was from Nigeria always led the congregation in singing “Happy Birthday” to Jesus at the end of each Christmas Mass.

If you can’t fathom the idea of baking one more thing, let alone a whole cake, just turn something you already have into “birthday cake” for Jesus. Stack some decorated cookies and light a candle next to them, or turn that gingerbread house into a temporary manger and sing around that.

It’s the acknowledging of Christmas as the birthday of Our Lord that is the important part. As they are singing “Happy Birthday” to Baby Jesus, children will be better able to identify with Christ. They know what it’s like to have a birthday. They know what it’s like to have all eyes focused on them — Mom and Dad gazing at them, taking pictures, everyone gathered around grateful for the gift of a child’s life. How much more should we be grateful for the gift of the life of Jesus? Doesn’t He deserve (more than anyone) to be sung to and celebrated?

You could always make a manger scene on top of a simple cake or even out of your favorite cookie dough. We attempted the latter for the first time this year. Since we don’t have Nativity cookie cutters, I turned to the internet to find some printables, but no success. Instead, I found some images of simple Nativity figures, drew them out on a piece of paper to the size I wanted, cut them out and made our own “cookie cutters.” My 15- and 10-year old daughters helped construct the scene and fill in the detail with simple colored royal icing. Voila, we had our first ever cookie manger scene.

Our creation wasn’t perfect. Keeping it simple was our motto. I learned a long time ago that striving for perfection in something that’s going to be eaten shortly is not worth the stress. Our goal was to create something that would help us honor the moment of Jesus’ birth and that was what we achieved.

This activity can be done any time in Advent as these type of rolled cookies will keep stored in a dry cool place for a few weeks or in the freezer for longer. We used the “Reindeer Spice Cookie” dough found at Pillsbury.com, but you can use your favorite gingerbread or sugar cookie recipe, any type of icing you prefer or even just colored sugar sprinkled on before baking. Betty Crocker has a great short video on making and using royal icing.

Even though Advent is cut short this year and we may find that Christmas is upon us sooner than we anticipated, don’t worry. If we spend our Advent days in worry and anxiety, striving for perfection, we are missing the point. It is our human (and motherly) nature to complicate what should be quite simple.

Contemplating the manger scene, whether in traditional style on your fireplace mantle, on the altar at church, or even in the form of lovingly made cookies, should lead us to a greater appreciation for simplicity and self-sacrificing love. That little Baby was His only Son. Mary and Joseph were poor, humble folk who sought only to do God’s will. They had none of the things the world tells us are necessary for having a baby — no doctor, no midwife, no birth plan, no meals prepped in the freezer (no freezer) and not even a pair of sleepers.

It was the simplicity of the Holy Family that allowed them to bask in the humble glory of God in a tiny, innocent yet divine Baby. Celebrating Christmas by emphasizing the birthday of our King reminds us that our families can have that, too.

Lazzuri, the mother of six, writes from her home in Nova Scotia.

© Arlington Catholic Herald 2017