It’s Christmas Eve, and with the setting of the sun and Christmas Eve services observed around the world, the Christmas season will begin. While Advent has been creeping its way into my December for a few years now, this is the first year that I’ve embraced the waiting implicit in the Advent season (I haven’t even listened to any Christmas music yet!). In the same way, this will be the first year for me to fully embrace the Christmas season (let’s just say I have a lot of celebration pent up inside) and I look forward to 12 days of feasting, celebration, and rest.
That also means that things will be quiet around here at A Sacred Journey from now until January 6th, which not only happens to be Epiphany (more on that from Katie when the day comes), but also is the day MY BOOK LAUNCHES! Learn more about Pilgrim Principles: Journeying with Intention in Everyday Life at pilgrimprinciples.com and join me back here on January 6th for some virtual champagne and a week of new posts (I’ll be posting 5 days a week in the New Year, Monday through Friday—usually) and giveaways (here and elsewhere, plus be entered for a chance to win a signed copy of the book when you subscribe to receive updates from A Sacred Journey by December 21, 2013).
Until then, join me in becoming immersed in the Christmas season, guided by our Liturgical Guide Katie Jensen’s poignant reflections and suggested practices below.
Merry Christmas from A Sacred Journey!
I can’t believe Christmas has arrived. Yet, here I am, sitting in my parents’ living room, drinking coffee, fire blazing in the fireplace, Christmas music on, the family gathered around reading and chatting, inches of snow falling outside. Somehow we have circled back to Christmas again and I’m scrambling to prepare, fighting hard to be present here well.
Perhaps you read my Advent post from a few weeks back. Well, this year I did not have the deep and spacious intentional Advent I was dreaming of and advocating for. I ended up working 60-70 hour weeks in order to have money to go home for Christmas. Any spare time was spent trying to keep up relationships, make Christmas gifts, and pining for the Advent I wasn’t having.
My Advent felt like anything but waiting, sinking deep, and reflecting—my own busyness and internal chaos not allowing me to land, to settle, to prepare for Christmas. I think it is often the case that Christmas comes upon us a bit too quickly. And we are brought face-to-face with our own humanity—our limitations, our desires, our vulnerability, and our smallness, our inability to fulfill our own hopes.
“I think it is often the case that Christmas comes upon us a bit too quickly.
And we are brought face-to-face with our own humanity—
our limitations, our desires, our vulnerability, and our smallness,
our inability to fulfill our own hopes.”
Yet it was into precisely this humanity that Jesus was determined to come. In the nativity story, we see that the human people of the world were not quite ready for Jesus to be born. Mary’s news was not greeted with joy and longing. She was shunned and misunderstood by most. She was not ushered into a palace or even a home while in labor. The birth of the Christ was relegated to a stable, his cradle only a manger.
As liturgical writer Gertrud Mueller Nelson points out in her book To Dance With God: “The dark truth of Christmas is that Jesus was born in these conditions ‘because there was no room in the inn,’ because, the fact is, we gave and continue to give him no room. We open our doors but a crack and fail to recognize him.”
Even though we try to prepare during Advent, the reality is, we are never really ready for Christmas. But God is always being birthed into our lives. In the deepest, darkest, shut-out corners of our worlds—in our stable places—God is determined to be born again and again. We continue to live in darkness and fear, keeping our inns full and our minds closed.
“God is always being birthed into our lives. In the deepest, darkest,
shut-out corners of our worlds—in our stable places—
God is determined to be born again and again.”
As Nelson continues: “The Lord has come despite us, despite our fears, our apathy, even our cruelty to one another.” But, it is in the midst of this darkness, in the bleak midwinter, at the center of our internal chaos, that we are invited to remember the Christ-mass and celebrate this dawning of Christ into our world in the person of Jesus not only thousands of years ago, but again and again in the darkest times and places of our lives.
The liturgical celebration of Christmas is not just a day, but a feast season of 12 days, lasting from the 25th of December (or on the eve of the 24th) through January 5th, with January 6th being Epiphany, marking the coming of the Wise Men. (For more resources on the history and celebration of the 12 days of Christmas, check out The Liturgical Year by Joan Chittister or To Dance with God by Gertrude Mueller Nelson, quoted from above.) These 12 days of feasting set near the beginning of the liturgical year help frame for us the rest of the year, during which we remember the rest of Jesus’ life—seasons that, once again, invite us more deeply into our own humanity. And how appropriate it is that during these 12 days we celebrate the ending and beginning of a new calendar year—we remember the year gone by and we make resolutions and name hopes for the year to come.
Christmas is the dawning of a new age, a new hope, one that began with a fragile and vulnerable infant born in a stable amidst poverty, death, and darkness. This child was determined to be born, this God committed to come. Even and especially to the darkest, crowded, miserable and unwanted places. This is where God is born, small, vulnerable, but filled with life to light the world.
“Christmas is the dawning of a new age, a new hope…
This child was determined to be born, this God committed to come.”
IDEAS FOR PRACTICES
People have many different ideas and traditions for celebrating Christmas, but here are some more to make it a bit fresh and new or to help deepen your practice.
1. Sing Carols Together
This is the one time of year we get to sing all these great Christmas songs. Singing together matters. In my family we go around and take turns picking out Christmas carols to all sing. Certainly it’s nice if someone can play an instrument to accompany the singing, but even if not, singing together creates unity like few other things can.
2. Act out the Christmas story
This has been one of my family’s favorite Christmas traditions. We light the living room by candlelight and my dad reads the Christmas story from Luke and Matthew. Meanwhile, the rest of us dress up (oh yeah, we go all out) and act out the story as he reads. This began as a fun and funny way for us to enter into the Christmas story as kids, but it still means something to us as adults. As much as we laugh, we also know this is serious. This story is real and it matters. And somehow dressing up like a shepherd and hearing my sister proclaim as the angel, suddenly make me understand the shock and wonder of shepherds a bit more or the commitment of the magi, or even the burden of the donkey.
3. Lay beneath the Christmas tree
I know of a young child who could lie for hours under the Christmas tree looking up at the lights, the ornaments. There is something magic about a Christmas tree that can bring us into child-like wonder—can help us see the simplicity and truth of Christmas. Maybe you’ll have to wait until the presents are gone from under the tree, but try to lay beneath it and look up through the branches. Enter into some of the joy and wonder of this season again—breathe deep that glorious pine smell, watch the lights, maybe pray. Let the vulnerability of this position remind you of the fragile Christ-child—God in human flesh.
4. Stretch out the gift-giving
The Christmas season is 12 days long. (Yep, that song is legit). Consider spreading out your gift-giving by offering one small gift each of the 12 days to your loved one(s) or even to yourself. This is a whole season to celebrate. Ripping through our presents and traditions in a few hours time doesn’t give adequate honor to this season of feasting.
5. Notice the Lights
Christmas is known as the Season of Light. Lean into that this year by noticing the lights around you. Maybe take an evening to drive around town and look at the Christmas lights strung on people’s houses; or make time to look at the moon and stars on some clear evening—these were the lights that Mary and Joseph and the Magi traveled by. Rise early and catch one of the last sunrises of the year—think about how Christ coming was really the dawning of a new age. Or, consider spending your evenings solely lit by candlelight. As you light each one, consider the act of Christ in sparking light into the deepest and darkest places.
How are you entering this season of Christmas aware of your humanity? Where are you crowded and distracted and unable to recognize Jesus coming this season? How will you celebrate the Christ child?
Katie Jensen just graduated with a Masters in Theology and Culture from The Seattle School of Theology and Psychology. Her focus was on the intersection of Spirituality and Creativity. She’s an artist–of ideas, of words, and of spaces. She is most interested in creating concepts that can translate into opportunities that shape and form people into wholeness. She seeks to be a poet who writes with life instead of with words. Having grown up in Minnesota, she still feels at home near still lakes, tall birch trees, and loud thunderstorms–all rare finds in Seattle, where she currently lives in a sweet little hobbit hole of an apartment. She surrounds herself with crafting projects, books of all genres, and many good friends.