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It is the day after Christmas. How are you feeling? Overwhelmed? Underwhelmed? Maybe you have that nagging feeling that — once again — the holidays have left you…incomplete somehow. What is that hole in our hearts, anyway — a longing for holidays past? Regret that Christmas didn’t “measure up” to our expectations? A sense that somehow we didn’t really get what we wanted?

Maybe what we’re missing can’t be bought from a store. And maybe that feeling you’re feeling is something helpful — a hint that this world isn’t meant to meet all of our needs. That longing you feel? Maybe it’s just a reminder that somewhere up ahead, something better awaits.

When your pockets are as empty
as the sack of your heart,
when you ache for a place
you’ve never been
and cannot find,
you will remember
what you did not get.

It was a stable, warm with hay
and the breath of cows,
a haven heavy with a sense of rest:
a knowing that all is well,
finally, at last and forever.
Do not fret, for this will come.
Keep walking toward the light.
Never let go of the longing,
for it will guide you,
sure as any compass.

Photo by Carlin Leslie

In my day, sonny, Santa was so stealthy, you didn’t hear him at all, even when he trundled his jelly belly into a slim chimney! He kept a low-profile, living a quiet life at the North Pole.

Nowadays, Santa has diversified. Not only is he larger than life, but he’s louder than all get-out. You see him in the mall, sitting there, plain as day, undermining his own mystique. You see him on the back of a firetruck as it blares and beeps its way through town. He’s even got an Instagram account!

Santa has become such a public figure that NORAD tracks him, and the postal service collects letters for him (addressed to 123 Elf Road, North Pole 88888.) He’s even got a Santa Hotline for kids to reach him at any time of the day.

I’m starting to think Santa is really spreading himself too thin, but I guess he’s got a mortgage to pay off, too. He’s even got a second home in Canada: Santa Claus, North Pole, H0H 0H0, Canada.

Maybe he’s got stand-ins, like movie actors do. It could be that some of the bearded fellows at Santa University are his proxies, spreading mirth and merriment when the big guy himself is otherwise engaged. 

Now, I know that Santa isn’t the true star of Christmas, but no matter what religion you belong to, this season is about joy and goodwill. It’s a holiday about hope, and the best part of it is that people are in a good mood and are (for the most part) getting into the spirit and treating each other with kindness. If only we could carry that feeling throughout the whole year!

Good tidings could toll, sing out in song,
fire or luminescence, light of any kind
to pierce the dark, a pillar of cloud
exiting Egypt; angels summoning shepherds.
Why send a star? Light already ancient,
a false ringing from a long-dead phone?
(Or does it live? By what name do we call it?)
Could only a star call the wise, with time and
thought to spare for gifts: gold for a king,
resin for the altar, spice for the embalmer,
already waiting to bless the linens
He would shrug off like a memory?
Have we any hope but to go the old way:
step by step across the desert,
to the limits of our imaginations,
and seek and seek the single light that shines
in an otherwise brutish sky?
A message sent light-years ago:
something both living and dead.
A cross is coming, do you see the shadow
pass over the baby’s face?

Yesterday, pastor included a children’s message as part of the service.  During this time, he sits on the stairs leading to the alter and the children gather there as well.  Yesterday they all talked about what they are thankful for – one little girl loved her nail polish.  One little boy?  Your guess is as good as mine. He’s a two-year-old mystery even when he very sincerely tries to describe something to me.

The problem is that I have to avoid trying to fill in what I think he has said.  I honestly don’t remember what I thought he had said the day he handed me a slightly mushed, dead cricket.

This is the world we live in.  My Christmas reality involves a tree and lots of lights.  So many lights!

Does that make it the only Christmas reality?  No.

Christmas isn’t a happy time for everyone.   Some are dealing with the loss of a loved one.  Others simply don’t have the finances to celebrate Christmas the way we are told it should be celebrated – gifts, fancy foods, and so many lights.  Others avoid the lights because they long for a simpler experience.

How do you know which it is?  You have to ask.  Then you need to listen.  Listen with your ears.  Listen with your heart.  Listen to what they tell you and for the still small voice of God.  After all, we live in a world of many realities.  Some people will need and want your help.  Others will long for your understanding.  After all, we live in a world of many realities.

–SueBE

 

I smiled when I read Lori’s beautiful poem.  “Hyacinth of the soul.”  What a powerful phrase!

Whether it is because you are mourning someone or simply because the gray skies weigh you down, this is a tough time of year for so many of us.  With so little daylight and cold winds keeping us inside, it can be easy for depression to take hold. What is fine one year may simply be too much another.

And it certainly doesn’t help that there are so many expectations on us.  Saturday, I am working the preschool breakfast with Santa at our church.  I will be painting faces.  I always laugh that we call if face painting.  Sure, ninety percent of the time, I am painting a snowflake on someone’s cheek.  Or their entire face to look like a reindeer.

But every now and again Mom drags up a wiggly four-year-old who looks me in the eye.  “Don’t touch my face.”

Me: Okay, do you want a snowman on your hand?

Little Wiggles:  I like snowmen.

Me:  Do you want one on your hand?

Little Wiggles gives me an elaborate shrug.

Me:  If you don’t like it, we’ll wipe it right off.

That is generally when I make my sale.  Kid, you have the power here.  Give it a shot and if you don’t like it, you give the word and off it comes.

These are always my favorite kids.  The ones who know that they are not face paint kind of people.  Hand paint?  Maybe.  But face paint?  Nope.

Christmas is about so much more than trees and lights and cards.  It is about the Light.  It is about Grace.  It is about the ultimate Gift from God. You don’t have to buy into all the rest if it doesn’t feel right in your soul.

–SueBE

“We aren’t exchanging gifts this year.  We’re playing rob your neighbor so bring a gift anyone in the family would love.”

Cricket.

Cricket.

Cricket.

A hate shopping.  Hate it.  Really.  That said I’m actually pretty good at buying gifts for other people.  Of course, this means that I’m shopping for specific people.  My father-in-law loves history and works with wood, think Foxfire.  My mother-in-law is into classical music and elegant history, much more Biltmore than Foxfire.

Now try to come up with something any one of 20 or so people would love.  Let’s just say that the only thing my mother-in-law and son have in common is that they both like cats and love to eat.  This is mission impossible!

But then my son suggested buying a can of Flex Seal.  What?  I hadn’t thought of ridiculous made for TV products.  Serious gifts that everyone would love?  Not going to happen.  But the ridiculous?  This just might work.

It is far too easy to let someone’s request dampen our holiday joy.  It is up to us to rediscover God’s presence and the spirit of his grace that not even the thought of shopping can entirely eclipse.

–SueBE

 

 

It’s a new year! Well, sort of. Advent marks the start of a new liturgical year in the Catholic Church. I suppose it is apropos that the new year begins with waiting. We spend such a vast amount of time doing it, after all: waiting in line (or “on line” if you’re from the Midwest), waiting for doctors and plumbers and cable repair persons, waiting for mail to arrive and children to get dressed and pets to do their business. Waiting to eat, to sleep, to give birth, to die.

All of life is waiting, in a way. Advent merely provides additional practice. But what are we waiting for? For a child to be born into a manger? That already happened. For that child to come again? Yes, but that’s constant, not necessarily Advent-specific. I think we’re really waiting for a change of heart.

Remember how you felt at Christmastime when you were a child? Remember when just seeing lights strung on houses and carols being sung could lift your heart right up to your throat? Somewhere along the line, we lose that sense of wonder. How can we get it back? Maybe that’s the challenge of Advent.

My father-in-law was manning the bell and kettle for the Salvation Army one Christmas, outside of a store, when a little boy — obviously disabled — came struggling up to him. In his mittened hand, he held a clutch of crumpled dollar bills. His mother explained that it was his Christmas money; he wanted to donate it to people who really needed it. My father-in-law still tells this tale with tears in his eyes.

This advent, I am waiting for that little boy — his spirit, anyway — to rise up in me like a tide and wash away my grown-up skepticism and wariness. I want to receive Christmas as purely and joyfully as a child. And I want to give away that pure joy as rapidly as it spools into my heart. I think that’s a worthy thing to wait for. Don’t you?

I have to admit it.  I adore Christmas.  Adore it.

It is the one time of year that I get into glitter and shimmer and WOW.  Otherwise, I’m a denim, battered boot kind of girl.

But Christmas draws me in.  Tomorrow I’m heading into the basement on a quest for our advent wreath.  We’ve had this same wreath since my teen was a baby but then again it is a silver pillar plate.  On it we place votive candles.  Did you know votive candles were first made to light in prayer?  A ring of prayer candles on a plate.  It helps me remember to turn to God in prayer even when things are crazy hectic.

And I’m making a new outdoor decoration.  I love the lights.  Just love them.  But the decorations that draw me in?  Nativities and stars.  Snowflakes and light strings.  Our new piece is a pallet painted with a star and strung with solar lights.  Yep.  I’m even nerdy and green at Christmas.

But what may be the best part of Christmas?  When people remember those who have less.  Who are in need.  Our church helps fill backpacks for children taken into foster care.  We’ve already delivered the crib full of coats.  We always have a food barrel but now is when it gets a real workout.

Take the time to slow down for a moment here and there this holiday season.  Center yourself on the why of it all.   And go into the world with the peace and love that are His call to us all.  When the commercialism gets to you, return to that focus.  Make this Holy season your own.

–SueBE

I’m doing again. Trying to buy Christmas, that is. Trying to bring home God-made-manifest in a series of shopping bags. Trying to echo God’s ultimate gift of love with stuff hauled in from the local mall. It is, of course, an endeavor doomed to failure.

Even the Grinch realizes by the end of the story that Christmas doesn’t come in a gaily-wrapped package. But even knowing that at a cellular level doesn’t stop the rampant commercialism of the holidays. You feel the tug of it everywhere you go. How can I show the people I love that I love them? How about a brand new set of knives! It’s enough to put a damper on anyone’s spirits. Gift-giving becomes a burden, rather than a joy.

So where do we find Christmas if not under a tree? Inside of ourselves. And how do we kindle that spark while being simultaneously bombarded by cookie-baking, house-trimming, gift-wrapping, covert buying and endless card-addressing?

I wish I had an answer to that. Maybe it’s a little like touching a butterfly: You can chase it around, offer bait, call out to it…and nothing is likely to happen. But if you just sit still and wait, quietly and patiently, it may very well land on your outstretched hand.

As the calendar turns to December, let us not chase down Christmas with a net and a cage. Go where the season pulls you — to church, to volunteer opportunities, even to a cozy evening on the couch with Truman Capote’s A Christmas Memory. Tell your loved ones you love them. Let God find you this Christmas, waiting, ready, snug as a manger filled with fresh hay.

Have a Mary Little Christmas

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