I am thinking about this idea of Christmas. Is it really about a baby born over 2000 years ago during the shortest days and longest nights of the year–a time where a young maiden nine months pregnant rode the back of a donkey the distance from Nazareth to Bethlehem, the city of David–for the ordered census of all Judean citizens? A maiden accompanied by her betrothed Joseph, who was warned in a dream to not desert her out of shame, but to taker her as his wife .
What a paradox of heaven and earth there is in this story. A couple hiding from shame for being pregnant out-of-wedlock, travels in the deepest, darkest part of the year–with barely any resources, in order to spend the night in an open barn stall to give birth to the King of Kings, the creator of the universe, and light and joy of the entire world for all time.
So, what if anything, does this story and all its modern-day trappings suggest to me today, in 2017, in my small town Washington– at this, my 65th Christmas?
Each Christmas arrives bringing along with it the same traditions, beginning with Advent preparations and prayers, followed (a little too closely) by Christmas trees and lights and decorations, presents under the tree, and all the Christmas music and songs and parties– culminating with the Midnight Christmas Eve Mass.
But, is Christmas really just about decorated trees and windows, and music and food, and presents and family and friends?
Or is it a much more radical and cosmic marker in my life and the universe?
Advent is intended to inform me that, if I prepare myself to watch, nothing is the same, none of my previous Christmases were identical, that each one brings its own surprises, and that everything in this universe is continuously being renewed, including me. Every Christmas I am one year closer to my destination, as is the entire universe. It is all coming closer each year to its ultimate consummation. All of creation joins with mankind in groaning and yearning for some release from this present struggle and strife, now in some measure, and ultimately in a full experience of joy, expressed by St. Paul;
We know that the whole creation has been groaning as in the pains of childbirth right up to the present time. Not only so, but we ourselves, who have the firstfruits of the Spirit, groan inwardly as we wait ..
To see this, I must watch for something new this Christmas– a new experience of life, of living, or if you will, a new coming of my Lord. With new eyes and a young heart, I find a fresh arrival of grace and mercy that will propel me into my new year. It is indeed like being born again–to see and understand everything as if for the first time.
Advent calls me to watch and wait with new eyes, no matter how many years I have walked through the same traditions– to help me look deeper and more intently on what I am always seeing.
And then, on Christmas, to be utterly surprised once more.
To Peace on Earth and Good Will to Men, and to being surprised!