I was doing my ab workout the other day and the girls’ cat (pictured above) kept crawling on me. I set her gently aside and continued. When I got done and lay on the floor catching my breath, the cat climbed onto my abs and commenced to knead as cats are wont to do. Ahhh, how sweet... until the claws started finding their way through my shirt! I think Christmas is kind of that way: I love it until the materialism or the busyness and such give me a little jab of annoyance. But maybe the real problem is I am letting the wrong things jab me. The message of Christmas is love and hope but within it is also a jab: God is going to turn things upside down, bring down the mighty, uplift the lowly. That doesn’t sound like a jab until I remember that I am one of the mighty in terms of wealth and privilege compared to much of the rest of the world. Ouch!
Mary got her heart broken twice. Well, actually, knowing the way life goes it was probably more than that. But, usually we think of Mary’s heart being broken when Jesus was crucified. It seems to me her heart was broken at least once before that: when she became a mother. Having a child breaks the hardness of your heart. At least that is the way it seems to me. Before my children were born I never cried unless someone died or something. Now, all I have to do is go to one of my children’s programs and I am fighting off tears. They make me so proud! And it is not even just when my kids are up there. The other kids doing well makes me tear up too. For me having children opened my heart to a new kind of wonder, marveling at every thing they learn, the successes they have. There is also the flip side, wanting to cry when they hurt, agonizing over their growing pains. I don’t mean to say this is something reserved for people who have children either. I think others have their hearts broken open by other experiences that open their hearts to whole new levels of compassion. Because I am a prideful person, I will undoubtedly still fight like mad to keep the tears from showing on the outside. Yet I am grateful for the depth my children have added to my life. At Christmas we celebrate the child who broke Mary’s heart and who breaks our hearts open as well: expanding our compassion to include all people as Children of God.
“How many times have you heard someone say — I can’t draw, I can’t sing, I can’t dance — with the case-closed authority of Solomon? Probably dozens of times, more if you yourself happen to be an artist blessed with the painting, flamenco, or woodworking gene. But have you ever heard anyone sheepishly confess, as they backed away palms up from an evergreen tree, Oh, not me — I can’t decorate Christmas trees?” This is the opening to the blog post Christmas is a Time for Artistic Expression on the On Being blog. I hadn’t really thought about it before but there are tons of opportunities to get a bit artsy at Christmas: decorating, festive baking, wrapping the presents to look just so. Even if it is as simple as layering ingredients in a jar for one of those sand art baking mixes, we can all explore our creative side this time of the year. The simple act of lighting a candle can be a way to express ourselves and give glory to God. Don’t shy away from creative expression this season. Let every act of creativity be a way of praising God for the abundance of beauty that surrounds us.
I have a special place in my heart for the shepherds. This may have something to do with spending a good portion of my days tending furry, four legged, or feathered creatures. Even as I write this I am continually finding bits of fluff clinging tenaciously to my face, my hands, my clothing. I just finished grooming the rabbits. It lifts my heart so much to think that the first to receive the Good News of Jesus’ birth were those who hefted hay, fleece and manure rather than those who leveraged power and money. The king only heard rumors. The shepherds were serenaded by angels.
I don’t relate entirely to the shepherds. I realize that in the scope of the world I am a person of privilege. Perhaps today the angels would appear to factory workers or discount store employees. The angels appeared to those doing the hard and un-heralded work. This is the message of Christmas: God turning the world upside down, the divine entering the world in an infant, the message communicated first to the lowly. I don’t know about you, but when I watch the news I think the world is so mixed up that upside down would be the only way to set us right.
For all the shouting about the secularization of Christmas, I think sometimes the secular communicates the message of Christmas better than the Christians do. For example, Charles Dickens’, “A Christmas Carol.” According to Wikipedia, http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/A_Christmas_Carol, Dickens first set out to write a political pamphlet about the plight of poor children in his time. He changed his mind and wrote “A Christmas Carol,” thinking it would be a more powerful way of communicating. Standing up for the rights of children and the poor certainly seems closer to the true message of Christmas to me than “how dare you kill the meaning of Christmas by saying, ‘Happy Holidays!’”
I am totally cheating on this one. I am going to ask you to provide me with inspiration instead of the other way around. I volunteered to provide some music for our Christmas Eve service and have been trying to think of a song that is deeply meaningful and perhaps slightly unusual. So, I ask you: What song would you most like to hear on Christmas Eve? “The Christmas Can-Can” and “Baby, It’s Cold Outside” are not options. Funny thoughts for in the midst of a candle light service, but not options. For me, a Good Friday service is not complete without singing “Were You There?”. Is there a Christmas equivalent for you? Think of that song, hum it to yourself to get in touch with that deeper meaning of Christmas and then let me know what the song is. Thanks for your help. I await your comments and emails.