Getting into the spirit of the season has been difficult this year. There’s so much uncertainty and ugliness in the world. Meanness and willful ignorance are en vogue; the chaos in our national politics and the hostility with which we so easily engage are overwhelming.
The most helpful thing I’ve found to deal with it all is that observing Christmas cannot be reduced to a single historical instance. Indeed, Christmas is lessened when it is understood as a single unique episode that happened, had whatever effect it had, and receded into the past, swept backward on the current of time.
But Christmas is a different kind of reality than, say, the signing of the Declaration of Independence or the Emancipation Proclamation. Christmas is a perpetual reality. There are always vulnerable people trying to make their way in an indifferent world. A baby in swaddling clothes is probably never more the a few minutes away from any of us. There are always tyrants looking to consolidate power and destroy political enemies.
Our faith calls us to be on guard constantly against all the Herods of the world – to resist, to subvert, to wage peace.
Finding hope this season comes more easily as I remind myself that Christmas isn’t limited to a single night 2,000-plus years ago. It’s a continuous perspective inviting us to find our own place in the story – again and again and again.
Sometimes we’re Joseph or Mary trying to keep our loved ones safe in a dangerous world. Sometimes we’re the innkeeper, too distracted to notice the human need waiting at our doorstep. And sometimes, if we pay attention, we’re the shepherds or magi recognizing the divine presence in an unlikely circumstance.
So as we go through familiar rituals once again, consider who you are in the story this year. Will you notice a homeless family and recognize the sacred mystery in their desperate lives? Will you see God’s face in a refugee and share your treasures? Will you rejoice to understand the power and majesty of the universe made manifest in the most vulnerable of our neighbors, and make room for them in your life?
Let Christmas come once again into this dark and troubled world, and let us see the Christ child for whoever he is, wherever she is.