Saturday, December 20, 2008
A Strange Thing
Christmas is my favorite season. I love the joyful anticipation of the coming of the Lord. I love thinking about what everyone on my Christmas list might want and trying to devise presents that they will like. I love to send out Christmas cards and keep contact with close friends and friends I rarely see but care for. I love to decorate my house for Christmas, gathering the outdoors to bring into the house--Berries! and greens! I love to see my family at Christmas. To me Christmas is about everything that I treasure in life--that makes life worth living,. The coming of the Lord, this infant babe, brings us back to the deepest chords of love in our own life. It is celebration of the Great News that Christ brings--of the joy of love in our hearts and of our redemption through this love for God and for others, this joy of love that unites us all in God's love for each of us.
So it was with deep disappointment that this year I had to forgo many of my Christmas pleasures, because of the exigencies of work. All plans to make presents for all the ladies on my list crumbled to dust. Trying to get a weekend day off to drive out to the country and find berries proved impossible. Present buying? Feeling ashamed, I did the simplest and easiest online shopping and assigned the rest to my daughter. This is not what I had planned.
A candle of penance, a mirror of self-reflection. Detail of Magdalene and Two Flames by Georges de la Tours, 1638-39.
But maybe God plans things to bring us back to Him. At the mass of the first Sunday of Advent, our priest reminded us that Advent is a season of penance, not partying, that in Advent we are called to penance, to prepare our hearts for the Lord, and charity to others. It seemed that it was because of lack of time that the only lights I could put up were the candles in the window. I found that I wanted less decoration in the house, the trees with lights only and no ornaments. I bought cream poinsettias to make up for the lack of berries and found I loved their quiet serenity. But most importantly, this lack of ability to do all the Christmas things I love forced me to contemplate more the preparing of my heart, the starkness of penance, the suffering of all humans--no matter how young or old or rich or poor, and my deep unconditional love for my family.
So I will only have the lights in the window til Christmas eve, and then perhaps put out more outside in celebration of Christ's birth. I am so far from being free of sin and fail so miserably in most of my resolves. But there is beauty in starkness and in penance and withdrawal and in thought, knowing that our Savior will be soon be born--the infant child lying in the manger, the Prince of Peace.
Blessed be the hour and the moment when the Son of God was born of the most pure Virgin Mary, at midnight, in Bethlehem, in piercing cold.