Tuesday, December 24, 2013

Empty Mangers and Empty Tombs


Every year, the manger in my family’s nativity set remains empty until Christmas morning. Throughout Advent, Mary and Joseph and shepherds and angels are gathered around an empty manger, waiting. The baby’s absence is a reminder for me that Advent is about preparation. An empty manger means something quite different than a manger that holds the infant Jesus. At Easter, the empty tomb means something quite different than a tomb that holds the crucified Christ. The empty tomb is the sign of resurrection, of defeat over death. The empty manger is the sign of anticipation, of hope in the incarnation.
 
The story of Christ on earth is bookmarked by two symbols of absence. It starts with the torn relationship between God and man. There is absence in our hearts, a longing for reconciliation. It ends with a ripped veil and our promised reconciliation. We are resurrected with Christ, removed from the fate of death. The emptiness speaks volumes about man’s relationship with God. The emptiness contains hope and victory. The emptiness is full of that which is beyond explanations or words or images.

I look at an empty manger and an empty tomb and know that God is with us.

Monday, December 23, 2013

Winter is Past


There are those who complain every year that Jesus wasn’t born on December 25th and that celebrating Christmas on that day is just a pagan tradition. But the simplest response to that is that pagans do not have a monopoly on the winter solstice. How natural to celebrate Light’s arrival during the darkest time of the year.

One of the readings for December 21 (the solstice) was Song of Songs 2: 11-12: “For see, the winter is past, the rains are over and gone. The flowers appear on the earth.” While technically, it is the first day of the season of winter, it is also the end of another winter. A spiritual winter of separation and despair has ended. The day grows longer; the light overcomes darkness. God appears on the earth. Salvation and hope is at hand.

It is still cold. It is still dark. The story is far from over. But there is a flicker of warmth and light piercing the icy winter. There is hope. And that makes all the difference. Hope turns winter into spring.

Tuesday, December 17, 2013

The Summer of the Soul in December


Watching A Muppet Christmas Carol is one of my favorite family Christmas traditions. Muppets and music aside, it actually does a pretty loyal job to Dickens’ work. Even before this year’s watching, I had the music stuck in my head. I began thinking about the lyrics and wondering if the words of secularized Christmas still had any connection to liturgical Christmas. 

The first song I thought of was “It Feels Like Christmas,” which has a refrain, “It is the season of the spirit/ The message if we hear it/ Is make it last all year.” Really, the season isn’t about the spirit; it’s about flesh. It’s about a God that becomes fully man and meets us at our level. But yes, the spirit of goodwill and tidings of great joy is a message that should be carried on throughout the year even when the season is over. There is always an increase in charity leading up to Christmas, almost as if to soothe our guilt over the gluttony and spending frenzy. If the spirit of Christmas lasting all year, means charities remain out in the open and on the public’s mind, then that is certainly a good message too.

And there’s the song “One More Sleep Til Christmas.” Lyrics include:“It’s the season when the saints can employ us/ To spread the news about peace and to keep hope alive/ There’s something in the wind today/ That’s good for everyone/ Yes, faith is in our hearts today/ We’re shining like the sun.”

Whether secular or liturgical, there does seem to be something in the air that taps into people’s nostalgia and tradition that makes us want to gather with friends and family, give to the needy, recognize the season in some way. It’s an active time of doing good. I like the idea that the saints employ us, because often we see the saints in the better position by being up in heaven. But as the Church Militant, we can do things on earth they can’t. It’s on earth that the work needs to be done; we’re working on salvation, personally and communally. Special seasons, like Christmas, remind us of the work to be done. More importantly, the season reminds us of why the work is worth it. Hope, love, and peace await. There is a God reaching out for us, illuminating the darkness.

God’s message of light is heard during the longest night of the year. Even secular society knows it’s a time of reflection and family and charity. There is something in the air, whispering of Christ around us. His coming permeates our hearts, even when we’re seemingly distracted by holiday parties, gifts, and Muppet movies.

Friday, December 13, 2013

Be Prepared



I’ve been a Girl Scout for almost 20 years, so you might think that I have this whole “be prepared” thing down. But I really, really don’t. I’m not a procrastinator by nature. I cannot understand the concept behind, “I write better under pressure.” But as work piled on this semester, I found myself completing my work closer and closer to deadline. My reading became scanning. My notes diminished in length. I was still getting it all done somehow, but I was really setting myself for failure.

Advent is about preparing for Christ. It’s not about just making it through somehow but about arriving in the right frame of mind and heart. I’ve pushed Advent down on my to-do list. It was something I’d get around to observing once school ended. And now that I’m looking up from all my papers, I realized I’ve missed half of my favorite season. Preparing for Christ shouldn’t be some half-assed job done under deadline or an item on a to-do. It should be a renovation, a cleansing of the home within. It should be lived in every moment and every action. Preparation should be a state of being.

If something is inevitable, it would be foolish to not prepare. Christ’s coming is inevitable. Maybe there is debate on knowing the day or hour or manner, but He’s coming. Wouldn’t it be foolish to be unprepared? It would be foolish to clean one time and let the dust collect after. To be prepared means to stay prepared, stay vigilant. I need to be prepared. 

There are four weeks to Advent. That’s because preparing for Christmas shouldn’t be a rushed job. The preparation should be steady and mindful. It should permeate the rhythm of daily life for a few weeks, becoming a part of living. And then that rhythm is broken in a radical revelation:

God incarnate.

Sunday, December 1, 2013

The Dual Season



I think one of the most overlooked beauties of Christianity is its approach to time. Time operates beyond our linear understanding of it. Advent begins, and we wait for Christ, even though it’s been 2,000 years since his birth. We anticipate all over again. We wait for the first and second coming simultaneously. It’s a dual season. Advent is a time of prophecy and preparation. There is excitement mixed with anxiety, feasting mixed with penance. The days are dreary and shortening. The season is bright and alive. We bring candles and evergreens into our homes to fight the darkness. We drape the church in purple, a color meaning both royalty and solemnity. Advent is a season of repetitious chaos, of organized uncertainty. There is a rush to prepare and the calm tempo that this season will pass. Christmas arrives each year as expected. Christ comes. And Christ comes again.