Rome Violinist and Family, March 2001
Photo Credit: Mark Grace
One of the most frequent questions I hear people being asked around Christmas time is, "What is your favorite Christmas memory?"
I love that question. It inevitably invites us into the worshipful rooms of our lives, often connected to our sense of childhood wonder and personal experiences of having been loved deeply.
That is why it is striking to me that every Christmas season seems so filled with a kind of desperate frenzy to escape anything unpleasant and to eat and drink ourselves into a kind of forgetful stupor from which we only wake sometime after New Year's day. I don't mean this as a judgment on others because I seem to be as easily caught up in the sickness as anyone else on the planet.
THE CHRISTMAS STORY IS ABOUT ABUNDANCE CHEEK-BY-JOWL WITH SCARCITY
The sometimes disruptive reality of this season is that the family in the picture above have lived closer to the real story of Christmas than many of us will ever imagine.
Indeed, that story is being lived out every single Christmas all over again. It shouldn't take a Sandy Hook elementary to call our attention to it. The fact is that more people die in the U.S. on Christmas and New Year's Day than at any other time of year, and not just from auto crashes, drug overdoses or family violence. More people succumb to nearly every kind of illness on those two days of the year than at any other time.
There is nothing new to the reality that death and deprivation attend us at every step, even into the heart of our most holy of celebrations.
THANKS FOR BUMMING ME OUT, MR. COMFORT AND JOY . . .
As a matter of fact, I have been known to display my fair share of angst-ridden moodiness, and not just on Christmas. I'm a year-round equal opportunity depressive.
But wait just a bit before you turn away toward your second helping of turkey and tamales. Don't grab that third bottle of beer just yet. Give me a minute to make my last point.
You see, if anything at all should give us comfort AND joy this year it is just this fact. What we are celebrating is the birth of God Almighty INTO the worst possible circumstances to deliver us to peace.
Jesus wasn't born to create this confusing, stress inducing festival of turkey and cranberry sauce or to make possible a big giant tree with mounds of presents under them.
Christ came into the world to be with us at the most difficult time. To assure us that NOTHING can separate us from the love of God.
Somehow that seems to me to be the most important part of this story- more hopeful than new possessions, more reliable than even good fortune and the absence of pain. So many people on this planet right now are living in need, facing despair, crossing the threshold of death. I believe they belong in our Christmas as much as Santa or tinsel or a new iPad. In fact, our ability to see them as part of this story is what makes this holiday a holy day.