Why is Christmas so celebrated? It is cherished by so many, myself included. What I have found though is that the reason can be found in what it isn’t. It isn’t the beautiful albeit inaccurate songs, it isn’t the gift giving, it isn’t the decorations, it isn’t the huge meals, it isn’t the people bickering over whether to say ‘Merry Christmas’ or ‘Happy Holidays,’ it isn’t the loneliness we all try to avoid, it isn’t the loss of loved ones we remember, it isn’t even the inevitable family arguments.
All of those things are integral to some and unavoidable to others, some are pleasant while others are certainly not. But it is so very important to acknowledge that all of those things are present in this season. So how does that help me define my reasons? Well because it is none of those things and all of them. There is a shift… a turning that occurs in me every season and having identified this ‘turning’ has put so much into perspective.
It started in the shower actually. I was trying to figure out what we could do for a program at church when the best Christmas hymn ever written began to play on my streaming service. It was written by Noel Stookey (Peter, Paul and Mary), Christmas Dinner. Even if you know the song, please, I urge you to go listen to it again. I grew up loving this song and the artist that sings in, but this time it was brand new. Did you catch what I missed?
There is a turning! Actually, there are several! This child turned to windows that were glowing with the traditional Christmas scenes, but then this child turned to a window that was only lit with a bare candle. Not a candle set on a windowsill, but a candle on table that lit the tears of a grandmother there. Then the old woman turned to the boy.
The remainder of the song is spent examining their shared celebration and is absolutely lovely. They share out of their lack and together have in full. And that, that right there, in a nutshell is what draws me to the Advent season. When people are willing to turn towards one another then take it one step further to come close, there is the spark of the sacred in that space that is shared.
I think we really are just imitating Christ, because whenever and for whatever reason God turned and looked at us, they also took the step to come closer. Brene Brown, in her uncomfortably poignant understanding wrote, in Atlas of the Heart, “When we are reckless with other people’s stories, we diminish our own humanity.” When Christ came, he wasn’t reckless with our stories, Scripture proves that to us over and over again. No, Christ valued our stories, he was reckless with his own.
We have become so accustomed to sarcasm and the misperception of perfection that sincerity has become rare and vulnerability just as untrustworthy. But we want to see and we want to be seen, why else would social media platforms be so relevant?? I wonder if we have forgotten what it feels like to actually be seen and how it changes us to see others. While riding in the car with my sons, we were listening to The BFG, by Roald Dahl, and a scene that illustrates this was given.
“Somone is bound to see us,” Sophie said.The BFG by Roald Dahl
‘Never is they seeing me,’ the BFG said confidently. ‘You is forgetting that I is doing this sort of thing for years and years and years. No human bean is ever catching even the smallest wink of me.’
‘I did,’ Sophie whispered.
‘Ah,’ he said. ‘Yes. But you was the very first.’
Our world is divided by politics… by lines on a map… by differences of opinions… by lack of patience… by the unwillingness to listen and believe other people’s stories. These diversions cause us to move away from one another, to discredit them, to a certain degree ‘cancel’ them. So what we are left with are growing schisms and chasms between us. Do we really want to live this way?
Now, I am not asking you switch football teams or political parties or religions, although goodness knows maybe that is the answer. (From what I understand, the Packers could use some help these days.) I am not even asking you to believe anything new. I am simply hoping you will take a moment or two each day and turn to the person next to you and see them. Think of that small distance between the two of you as the place where the Holy resides. May we lean into that place so that we can find healing for ourselves and, when able, for them too. When you are checking out at the grocery store. Tucking your kiddo into bed. Taking your furry child for a walk. Giving a gift. Receiving a gift. Waving to a neighbor. Passing a person with a different political bumper sticker on their vehicle. Sharing a hug. The opportunities are readily available.
This Advent season, may you receive the peace of Christ and may you turn to those around you to extend that same sacrament.