It’s almost Christmas, y’all! And before I go any further, let me say I enjoy Christmas festivities, I really do, but over the past several years, I’ve embraced a simpler way of Christmas. I’m certain that the main reason is that as a priest, Christmas isn’t time off but a season of additional work. But a lot of it has to do with a deeply forming desire to experience the (and I’m sorry this has become so cliche, I really am being sincere and authentic) true meaning of the Holy Day (holiday) of God becoming flesh for all our sake, the real reason for the season, why we celebrate the Mass of Christ (get it? Christ’s Mass, Christmas) in the first place.
And there’s a few more pieces to the puzzle as well (If you can’t tell, I’ve been thinking this through a lot because I want to make sure I’m not just becoming a grinch in my old age). I am also on a journey of doing my best with God’s help to not overload my days and weeks in any season and to step out of the western culture’s ideal of hustle and hurry. It’s tough to follow Jesus when I’m running around being busy for the sake of being busy.
And, I’ll just go ahead and say it: gifts cause me stress. I’m not a clever gift giver. I can’t, at a moments notice (or even a long notice), think of the perfect gift for anyone. If I’m out and about and see something that makes me think of someone I treasure (the ‘someone’ not the ‘something’) and if I can afford it, I might think through getting it for them but it’s the thinking that often stops me: do they already have something like this, do they need something like this, do they even want to add one more ‘thing’ to their existing stuff, will they like it or will they be annoyed at me for getting it for them (yes, seriously, I think that last question the most, you other Enneagram 9s will understand)? These questions began running through my head long before I started downsizing, decluttering, and limiting the ‘stuff’ in my own life.
So, with all of this, and the fact that Christmas doesn’t even begin until December 25, I’ve let myself off the hook from all of the stress, hustle, and bustle of the time before December 25 (which, as you know, is the season of Advent which is about slowing down and reflecting anyway). During the 12 days of Christmas, I’ll make cookies and goodies and mail cards to my people treasures and I will enjoy it.
I’ve given myself permission to let go of the expectations of the “best ever” Christmas because I’ve come to know that The Best is already with us, leading us on the Way of Love every day of the year. With God’s help and my continuously awakening awareness of God’s Presence, I know the joy of the birth of Jesus.
I experienced this ever abiding joy and Presence just this past Sunday. We awoke to discover that our aging dog had died during the night. It was early and I had to be at church to lead worship. And so I prayed: I gave thanks for the companionship and love this wonderful dog has brought us. And I cried because I will miss her sitting with me while I pray in the morning. And I prayed some more and I asked God for the strength for the morning.
As I read the Eucharistic Prayer, The Presence of God was so very real to me. It is every time, but this time was different, more solider (to borrow a word from C. S. Lewis). I felt and knew the joy of stepping into God’s Story more than I ever had before. And it was nothing I did but a gift from God to enable me to do what is mine with God’s help to do.
I do not believe this experience is limited to those of us called to be ordained. Each and every human being is a beloved child of God and God wants all of us to experience the reality and joy of The Presence with us and in us and in each other. This joy is so real, so much more and solider than anything. Even when we grieve. Even when we hurt. Even when we just can’t grasp what is going on in this world. Even when we are laughing in a room full of folks we treasure. Even when we get that one thing we’ve wanted more than all the other things. Even when we realize that things can’t sustain happiness.
May you experience the joy of God’s Presence this day and all days, my friends. Emmanuel.