Tuesday, December 26, 2006

in christmastide

For Christians, I think that the last thing called for in this Christmas season is phony magic, the wishful making upright of all that is turned over, either personal or in the larger world. Or the cloying fake holiday spirit of Coke ads (you know that the polar bears probably ate the penguins after the bottle was shared with the young cub) and all the other commercial holiday music/decorations/sales aimed at putting us all in greater debt or making us much heavier in weight.

An aside -- a local Indianapolis carwash merchant has a billboard that tells us to put Christ back in Christmas and other billboards telling us that carwash gift cards are great seasonal gifts. I say put car back in carwash.

What is needed is what is always needed, an honest reflection of who we are and the mess we humans are in. In other words, a time for humility and quiet.

Which is what speaks to me so strongly in the Advent Sundays leading up to Christmas Eve night when at last we finally sing the ancient hymns and reflect on the awe of a baby in a cattle trough, the image none of us would conjure up for such an occasion.

Hope, as someone pointed out in a fine sermon I heard, is what Mary, Joseph and the Shepherds had as they gathered around the babe in circumstances bleak and poor. Despite the angels and the star, on that night they still found themselves in a cattle shed. Hope is not easy magic, glossing over reality, but prayer in facing reality, I think. Hope is not us as God, making God-like judgments and decisions for everybody else, fixing everything, ourselves included. Hope is the work of being Christian, praying, confessing, worshiping, opening our lives to change, to challenge conventional values and wisdom, and in the practical words of Jesus, to feed and clothe the poor, tend to the sick, and visit those imprisoned.

That's what I've been thinking about this season. Because Sunday was the fourth Sunday of Advent as well as Christmas Eve, it was only at the evening Christ Mass that we sang Once In Royal David's City, the first verse sung a capella by a young girl, and then in parts by the choir, and then with organ and congregation as we processed slowly amid the lit candles and pine greens.

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