Friday, December 3, 2010

As Christmas Nears

So far we have done the Christmas tree thing (twice - one upstairs and one in the basement).  We have made paper wreaths and put on the Christmas music.  I bought Christmas cards and put up Christmas lights.  Okay, I'll admit it, I love this time of year . . . even if it has little to do with the actual celebration of Jesus' birth.

Of course we know that December 25th was the celebration of the festival of Saturnalia and the pine trees, the garlands, the blazing Yule are holdovers from pagan celebrations . . . but it really is a lot of fun.  There is something festive and warming about practicing these things that have very little tie to the first event, most likely occurring in late August or early September.  Not a whole lot to do with the crowded little house (if you accept Kenneth Bailey's scholarship) where a stranger was welcome into the living area of a tiny Palestinian home because the guest quarters were full.

Even so, I equate the birth of the Messiah with cold air, threatening snow offset by the warm glow of Christmas lights, soft music and hot chocolate - symbols of the contrast between the cold hearts of mankind and the coming kingdom.  I have the theology right - we know that the Kingdom of God is a brightly lit, warm and protective place for the sinner and heralded by the bright countenance of angels.  It is the connections that I have wrong.

The oil-painting that I have in my head of the wise men cresting the hill toward Jerusalem or of Mary and Joseph in a stable or Joseph frantically trying to find space in the town of his ancestors has more to do with childhood picture books and my own personal myth-making.  The real story was most likely more mundane - a journey to Bethlehem in a country the size of New Jersey in the late summer helps me get a better idea of the actual event than the swirling winds of the cold desert on the back of a lone donkey.

And it was in the midst of the mundane that something spectacular and frightening happens . . . but not for Mary and Joseph.  Remember, it was the shepherds who get the angelic message.  Mary didn't quite know what to do with that.  She just pondered all these things in her heart.  It did not dawn on Joseph to search the stars, it would be some time before the magi would show up with gifts for the young boy Jesus.  

So if I think of anything that is appropriate to get me in the Christmas spirit, it would be the embracing of the mundane.  To realize that in the routine we find the seeds of the sublime.  God seems to have his own schedule and purposes that sometime ask for our participation and at others roll out with an unexpected banality. 

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