Contrary to secular practice, the Church celebrates Christmas not for one day, but several. While some traditions stretch Christmas all the way to February 2, the more commonly known 12 Days of Christmas take us through January 5th, the day before Epiphany. Regardless, I can promise that I will feel perfectly justified in still saying Merry Christmas while others wish me a Happy New Year. Really though, how wonderful that these two celebrations can coincide and overlap!
Christians are explicitly called to constant and reflective change in the thoughts, words, actions, and omissions that make up our lives. This is the true conversion that does not primarily involve an increase in the number of those who call themselves Christians, but rather an increase in the number of self-proclaimed Christians who actually act like they are trying to follow the Way of Jesus Christ. New Year’s Eve is a great opportunity to approach this project of discipleship with new vigor, particularly because the rest of our culture is focusing on their resolutions for the new year as well. And while it may be important for many of us to exercise more or eat more healthfully, perhaps there are things we can do differently that will impact the good of others even more so than that of our own selves.
These days right before the new year are ideal to ponder whether Christmas has actually meant anything at all to us. As the medieval mystic Meister Eckhart asks, “What good is it to me that Mary gave birth to the son of God […] years ago if I do not also give birth to the Son of God in my time and in my culture? We are all meant to be mothers of God. God is always needing to be born.” God’s love is not meant to have entered this world only once in history, but rather it must do so repeatedly, including through you and me. If we refuse to participate in Christmas as an ongoing reality and challenge, what does that say of our appreciation for the first one some 2000 years ago?
As for me, I know that several of my relationships are calling me to a different way of loving. In some cases, I am being called to more affectionate expression. Other relationships require me to be more assertive in expressing my own needs and interests. Meanwhile, I still uncover situations in which the needs of another require me to abandon my pride, preferences, or an insistence on my own convenience. There is also love of the unknown neighbor: even if the work that I owe others is directed toward helping those in need, how generously do I spend the borrowed time and resources I call my own? Without succumbing to scrupulous compulsion, are there sustainable changes of habit I can make to better share God’s gifts with those who have not received their just allotment?
While I am not conflict-averse, I usually avoid looking for a fight. Especially in these polarizing times, I try to listen carefully when speaking with those whom I disagree strongly with. For me, this has been a way to respect the dignity of the human person in front of me, even when I cannot respect the positions he or she is advocating. Now though, I find myself wondering in spite of this tendency whether the time has come for me to be political in a different way.
In my country of citizenship, two migrant children under the age of ten have recently died while in government custody under circumstances that appear to have been tragically avoidable. While Customs and Border Patrol is already looking at new policies to prevent further occurrences, this still feels to me like a bureaucratic response to a humanitarian problem. Is my perception unfair? Or is a more radical response not only justified but necessary?
Yesterday, December 28, was the Feast of the Holy Innocents, when we remember the infants that Herod murdered in his attempt to eliminate the threat that the recently born Christ posed to his corrupt power. Now, as then, the blood of the innocents calls out, and the cries of the mourning will not be silenced. My response cannot be mere grief and frustration, but what other possible responses exist for me? It is a great time of year to look for an answer.
This week’s “ear candy” and “brain food” can hopefully both contribute to your appreciation of our winter holidays. “Man in the Mirror” by Michael Jackson may seem most directly aligned with New Year’s resolutions, but the brain food, a guest column the New York Times offered us in time for Christmas, reflects powerfully on the role grace can play in this world. Hopefully we can connect these two themes in our lives.
Ear Candy: “Man in the Mirror” by Michael Jackson
Brain Food: “The Uncommon Power of Grace” by Peter Wehner
Come back next Saturday for a new post!