Oh, my! This is a wonderful time, but there are so many things we forget about between the last Christmas and this one. How to untangle the Christmas lights, for example (many of us find ourselves praying a lot for Mary the Untier of Knots to intervene!), or cook the beloved family tradition of turkey and trimmings. There are also directional challenges as we navigate the roads to get to the once-a-year party or family reunion. And, oh, the mysterious aspects of gift-giving and Christmas card sending – Who wants what? Who lives where? What are so-and-so’s children’s names again?
It can be very difficult to know the way at Christmas!
But there’s one thing that we can be assured of – Christmas knows its way to us.
Not only are we surrounded by reminders of the Season, but in our churches, fellowship groups, daily devotionals, and faith traditions, we see, hear, and absorb Christmas. And the more we are mindful of finding it, the more Christmas comes to us, enfolds us, cheers us.
We have only to look at a picture of a sweet baby to see Christmas and its promise, love, and light.
Yes, we will fumble with those lights and probably burn the Christmas cookies or turkey at one point or another. We might even lose the map and forget the turn on our way to grandmother’s house, since none of us probably use the “horses that know the way to guide the sleigh” to get there!
But even if we get completely turned around and upside down, Christmas will find us. God will be with us. And we can sing “Gloria!”, even if we forget when to come in or what note to sing!
During the year, we try to surround ourselves with people who care for and about us. Family, friends, a strong medical team – these people and even some strangers help us through our days of pain and illness challenges.
But at holiday time, as larger groups gather, our insulated world opens up a bit – or more. Family members we don’t see often arrive, complete strangers come into our “world” as we travel, and others intent on their own errands, shopping expeditions, and often-frantic activities move around us (sometimes even bumping right into us!). And this reality, that we are not as “protected” as we usually are, can be the hard part of the holidays. For even as we try to make the most of this time, others who are not as careful or compassionate might however accidentally make our lives much more difficult than they already are. I’m thinking of the flight attendant who won’t assist with a clumsy bag, a cashier who gets impatient as we fumble with our bills and coins, or a traveler who hastily turns or strides right into our aching selves.
Yes, we can feel mighty vulnerable. But one thing that helps me is remembering that God is not on vacation at this time. The same support and protection that we enjoy from the Lord during the year is present as we dare venture a bit farther out of our insulated world. Moreover, God knows what our frailties are, and somehow never fails in bringing angels into our world just when we need them. These are also many times strangers, but all times welcome. Holiday gifts. Manifestations of the Spirit of love.
So, even if you are a bit fearful of leaving your comfortable surroundings and mighty support system, know that God is with you always and everywhere. And with the protection that comes from our Lord, dare even more to enjoy this time and recognize the angels that you meet all along the way.
We’re in the heart of holiday season, now, and there’s one “gift” that I’m sure you don’t want to receive – an infectious illness. Whether a cold, flu, or other “catchy” bug, an illness on top of the chronic variety we already live with can be a serious complication at worst, a holiday-hamperer at best.
So, how do we avoid getting sick(er) at holiday time? Alas, there’s no easy answer. So many holiday warriors, determined to get all they can out of the festivities, parties, religious celebrations, and other once-a-year events, will throw caution to the wind and go forth with sniffles and sneezes galore. And as we know, at some point, we’ll come in contact with these unwanted intrusions and have to hope and pray that we’ll not fall to them.
I think it’s a good idea to speak with our individual doctors at this time of year to go over illness prevention steps that are pertinent to each individual case. It’s also a good idea to practice saying, “no,” as hard as that can be. If some insist on exposing everyone else to their “gifts,” then it is perfectly within our right to insist on declining the “invitation.” Yes, it’s hard to cancel an activity at the last minute, or step aside if someone appears with a Rudolph-like nose and fever. But if others will not be conscientious, then we have to be extra cautious.
Everyone hopes to have happy holidays, whatever days within we celebrate. The healthier, the better. As we “avoid the gift that keeps on giving,” we can be stronger – and happier – as these days unfold and the New Year dawns!
Advent 2016 is underway, a time of internal preparation in order to be more fittingly joy-filled when Christmas dawns. I truly enjoy this time, and try to spend lots more of my waking hours in quiet, prayer, and gentle appreciation for all of God’s marvelous gifts in my life and in the world around. And this year, I will also reflect upon and ramp up for another deeply spiritual event that will flow throughout the coming year: The Jubilee Year of Mercy.
It’s an interesting juxtaposition of words: “Jubilee” and “Mercy.” When I think of the word “jubilee,” I envision loud and happy celebration – a time of bright music and lots of praise and laughter. Jubilee, to me, recalls the gospel song, “Sign Me Up,” and the uplifting way the choir I used to conduct would sing it, hands raised and faces beaming.
And then there’s the word “mercy,” a much more tempered word, with roots in the direct connection between our broken human condition and God’s forgiveness and love. It’s hard to voice the word “mercy” with anything but reverence, devoid of clatter and noise. Even harder to imagine loud celebrations with mercy at the heart: The most obvious song that comes to mind is the slower, simpler “Lord, Have Mercy” that we intone during the liturgy.
But, are the two words, then, separate and distinct, or is something else going on?
Taking a deeper look, I think these two words move and speak together in a very important way. For, as individual as they are in tone, “jubilee” and “mercy” blend joy with gratitude, celebration with sanctity. No freewheeling year, this 2016, but rather a time to be so very, deeply thankful for the mercy that Our Lord extends to us and then, through the energy and enthusiasm that a jubilee inspires, to act upon it for the betterment of ourselves and our world.
To me, “jubilee” ebokes the willing spirit that will lead each of us to take more time to deepen our faith and find more ways to act with compassion and mercy toward others. And the word “mercy” brings us to those gentle acts, internal and external, one by one, throughout the year which, when added together and to those acts that others do, will make for a moving and inspiring time for our very troubled world.
So, at the deepest level, “Jubilee” and “Mercy” go hand in hand – joy with compassion, celebration with love.
And so we begin!