Father Lance Harlow
The transition from the Christmas season to Ordinary Time is fraught with emotion for most of us. The unit of time employed for the liturgical season called "ordinary" doesn’t mean "common" or “usual.” The word is derived from the Latin word "ordinalis" which refers to sequential numbers — like the mathematical terms: ordinal and cardinal numbers. The Latin root is "ordo" which means order. One might say, then, that the season of Ordinary Time refers to living an ordered life. Ordinary time counts and links the major events in salvation history. It begins with Advent and Christmas linking the season of Lent followed by Easter. Then, ordinary time returns to link Easter to Advent again. But above all, the liturgical year "orders" our lives around a person; that is, Jesus Christ.
The transition into ordinary time following Christmas can be jolting because most Catholics are caught up in a tug-of-war during Advent. The tug-of-war represents, on the one hand, a culture of commercialization replete with empty promises. On the other hand, there is Advent whose primary purpose is to prepare us to celebrate a singular event; that is, the birth of Him who has come into the world to take away our sins as the sacrificial lamb of God. The word "Christmas" comes from the Old English word Christes maesse. Or, "the Christ Mass."
The aforementioned tug-of-war, rooted in a culture of aggressive commercialization, pulls us away from preparing for Christ-Mass by the empty promises that enough shopping, decorating, baking, Christmas music and holly-jolly making will lead us to that happiness for which every human soul yearns. But it can’t. Only the union of our soul with Jesus can produce true happiness.
So, when the trees and decorations start coming down and the credit card bills start going up, many people begin to experience an emotional emptiness or let down. That feeling can be an experience of God’s grace. Jesus is tugging on our hearts from His side of the tug-of-war calling us back from the distractions of a materialistic culture of empty promises to the culture of the Kingdom of God filled with beatitudes.
In the Gospel for the Second Sunday of Ordinary Time (John 1:29-34), St. John the Baptist states after having seen Jesus at the River Jordan: "Now I have seen Him and testified that He is the Son of God." That acclamation of faith diverts us from the false happiness rooted in commercialization to the true happiness rooted in a Person — a living, Divine Person — Jesus Christ. And so, we begin again to live a more ordered life in our persistent reorientation toward Him. We may have been temporarily dazzled by the glitter of the Christmas marketing empire, but with the re-ordering of our lives at the beginning of Ordinary time, we are dazzled now by the glittering drops of sanctified water falling from the shoulders of Him who is the "Lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world" (John 1:29).