It gets complicated by the fact that we have two seasons going on at the same time. One is a secularized holiday combining the best of European pagan solstice celebrations, often with a thin veneer of the Christmas story. There is a lot about that that I like, especially the decorations and cookies.
The other is so different. It’s the season in which we remember the shame of a young unmarried pregnant woman, her reluctant and equally shamed husband to be, several hard journeys, a lack of common hospitality, danger, murder and escape in which somehow, and most improbably, God’s presence is made known through choirs of angels that almost no one hears, a handful of shepherds, a couple of loony prophets, and some wayward astrologers who could read the stars but not the politics of the times.
I do love the way we dress it up with children’s pageants, massed choirs, music filled midnight masses and all the rest. I wouldn’t change any of it. But I also know how powerful the story, in its raw form, can be for those who are struggling through this blue time of the year. It is that raw story in which, as John says, a light shines that cannot be defeated by darkness. Here, in the dark and among the least of us, is where God is present, hope is present, and our brokenness, the brokenness of the world, begins to be healed. It’s the raw story that I talked about over a cup of coffee with the victim of a Sunday morning house fire for whom there is nothing merry about this Christmas. Trees, lights, parties, carols and all the rest have become repugnant. Chestnuts roasting on an open fire is a frightening thought. But the raw story of the nativity of our Lord is a story of hope. I wonder how we best offer that gift this year? How can I? How can you?