Wednesday, December 24, 2014

Christmas Eve: a reflection

It's become something of a minor tradition for me offer a few thoughts on Christmas Eve here on Καθολικός διάκονος. I don't mind saying that there was a time when I enjoyed Christmas much more than I do now. Even though I was raised in a fairly secular manner, when I was growing up Christmas was always a day for which we prepared, "trimmed the hearth and set the table," as it were. The few days before Christmas were quiet and Christmas Eve was a positive joy, a day we spent at home together just hanging out. It was joyful because it was quiet, one might say even a bit contemplative. Frankly, I have always found Christmas Day itself exhausting and tiresome. I'll be honest, I am always glad when it is over. I can remember feeling that way even when I was a child.

These days it is the week of Christmas, the Octave of Christmas, that I look forward to and enjoy the most because all the hustle and bustle, the empty running around and silliness have all subsided. Most of all, I have the time to ponder the great mystery of the Incarnation of the Son of God and what it means to me and for me. Hence, I grateful that, as a Catholic, Christmas is a season, not only a day.

I know that all sounds a bit hum-bug. Perhaps it is. It's not Christmas so much that gets me down, it's the way we observe it. It's all sentimentality, which is the spiritual equivalent of eating too much sugar, eventually it makes you a bit sick. Plus, it seems that no matter how hard I try, Advent is simply obliterated. That is not a complaint, merely a factual observation. I bear the biggest share of the blame for this, no doubt.

Nativity Scene in a refugee camp in Irbil, Iraq

The late John O'Donohue, in a reflection on Christmas for BBC 4 back in 1998 offered something of an antidote to all the sentimentality. He sought to channel it constructively and not just obliterate it: Christmas awakens wonder in the heart. All belief depends on wonder. Where there is no wonder, there can be no faith. Wonder is a beautiful way of seeing. Wonder never rests on the surface of a fact or situation. It voyages inwards to discover why something is the way it is. Wonder celebrates the mystery and depth of presence that is within us and around us. It has no greed to grasp or own the heart of a thing. In the words of .38 Special, "Just Hold on loosely, but don't let go."

Nonetheless, Christmas remains, despite my Celtic gloom, a time of hope for me because my hope is not in the ephemeral, in running around trying to maximize the entertainment value of Christmas, but in the One whose birth remains, even at a time when many ignore it, seek to relativize it, or even outright deny it, the occasion of our celebration. This was well-stated by His Excellency, Bishop Mark Davies of Shrewsbury, England:
How much we need to be reminded on this Christmas Night 2014, that the greatest message for peace and the cohesion of society is being lost amongst us! Charles Dickens captured this message in his Christmas Carol by tracing the path of Scrooge’s conversion. "Christmas," Scrooge’s nephew tells him "… apart from the veneration due to its sacred name and origin, if anything belonging to it can be apart from that … is the only time I know of, in the long calendar year, when men and women seem by one consent to open their shut-up hearts freely …" If the light and meaning of Christmas were to be lost amongst us, then what would call new generations to so open their hearts? What would call them beyond divisions to recognise each other as sisters and brothers, each with an eternal value and dignity?

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