Reflections During Advent, Christmas
Luke 2:18-19: And all who heard it were amazed at what the shepherds told them. But Mary treasured all these words and pondered them in her heart.
Years ago, facing a divorce, one of my greatest worries was not being able to “do Christmas” the way I had before. I was already sharing my grown sons and their families with their in-laws. What would a further sharing of them mean? Hearing me fret (obsess, really) about such matters, a friend, who is also a priest, sat me down and reminded me that Christmas is a day on a calendar. We do not know when Jesus was born. December 24 and 25 have no intrinsic value, only the value we give them. There would be other days, he said, that I could make just as special with my family. Doing so would require only a little imagination.
Though it took a while to sink in, his wise counsel has helped me learn to celebrate Christmas more creatively and maybe more honestly. What his words did, I think, was remove sentimentality and nostalgia from my thinking about this holy season. Doing that is not always easy in a world saturated by idealized images of coziness found in advertisements, cards, catalogues, and magazines. Becoming less sentimental about Christmas goes against the grain of our culture. But doing so is possible, and it can be freeing.
No matter how or with whom you are marking Christmas of 2020, Mary may be a good companion on your journey. We see her in Luke’s gospel amid the noise of angels and sheep herders. Despite all cacophony around her, she is still and quiet, pondering things. She leaves no record of the contents of her musings, but it would not be far-fetched to imagine that she was reviewing the previous nine months of her life, recalling, among other things her own words—Here am I, the servant of the Lord; let it be with me according to your word. Almost assuredly, she was wondering what would come next. As we do, too.
It is good at Christmas to remember that something new is happening: God is shaking things up, coming into our world in a new way, inviting us to live in that newness. It is good to re-examine our relationship to the Holy Child born in Bethlehem, to think about new ways to seek and serve him. It is good to bring our whole selves to the enterprise of Christmas—our exhausted, wounded, fearful, and grieving selves as well as our hopeful selves that know the goodness and joy of life and love. It is good to remember that Christmas is not limited to one day. It is good to bring our desires and our imaginations. It is good to continue to keep awake, to watch, and to pray.
INVENTIVE AND IMAGINATIVE GOD, arranger of the elements into stars and deserts, lambs and evergreens, beeswax and music: you yourself became vulnerable, born as Mary’s baby, to live in a world that is both bitter and sweet, messy and holy. Help us this Christmas season to re-imagine an earth where all can breathe freely, where children are safe, where justice prevails, where leaders are wise, where nations are friendly, where love erases hate; then strengthen us to do your will to make it so, to the glory of your name. AMEN.
The Keep Going On Song by The Bergsons.
Not a traditional Christmas carol—but it’s not a traditional Christmas