Christmas isn't over. It just started! You may have to drag that needle-shedding tree out to the curb, but please consider keeping your outside holiday lights burning and candles burning in your windows for at least the Octave of Christmas, which ends January 1, 2006.
Even better, keep that Christmas light burning through Epiphany, the Feast of the Three Kings, on January 6th. The link has some good ideas for keeping the holiday going for the little ones (and the big ones, too).
If we want to insist on keeping Christmas alive in our secular culture, we'd be good witnesses by keeping to the timing of the liturgical calendar. Making the "Twelve Days of Christmas" an actual event in our homes is a good start.
To credit this phrase properly, I heard it spoken by Fr. Thomas Loya this morning on Relevant Radio's Morning Air program. He was speaking, as he always does in his weekly segment, about Pope John Paul II's "Theology of the Body", a rich treasure of teaching about our true natures of man and woman.
He was speaking of the Incarnation of Jesus Christ, and dropped this statement among others, but it dinged! in my heart and mind, fresh from receiving the Eucharist at a beautiful quiet morning Mass, and I repeated it to myself all the rest of the way to work. Who else but God could do it? Not only in the Incarnation, but truly only the Holy Spirit acts within us when we do good to others, as we make God's invisible Mercy visible through our physical actions of charity.
And it describes so clearly our Church! Jesus created and described His Church and His spousal relationship to it, and left it after His Ascension, visible, among us, in the Apostles, fuelled by the Holy Spirit.
And it describes so clearly our Sacraments! Never, ever take for granted the great gift of the Sacraments, physical, visible signs of God's Mercy, God's actual Presence among us.
May Christmas be for all of you a time of marvel, of awe, of plain old surprise at the great condescension of our Creator and Savior, stooping low to enter our physical world as one of us, being born as one of us.
When I die, they're going to find "Facetious" written on my heart, and I often say that the holidays are really an excuse to dial up my family's Cream Cheese and Sour Cream Delivery Systems to Eleven, but this morning, I've got a flame over my head as the Holy Spirit is singing the Truth in my heart that He came, has come, is here, and will come again!
As usual, the view from the crow's nest at the beginning of this pentultimate week of the year is a little chaotic. Imperfect technology has added to the situation's complexity. My computer connection has been down for some time, and there is no huge likelihood that it will be fixed before the new year. I am taking advantage of friends' broadband, particularly that of my good-hearted fiancé, but it feels like someone has taken my right foot and strapped it up behind me. I'm somewhat hobbled, and I keep stepping out to do something only to fall to the floor when I realize I don't have the tool for the job. Most of the penitential potential of this has probably come to my mind. I only hope it has lodged in my spirit.
As usual, this season brings a varied flood of feelings. I love Advent, gatherings of family and friends, presents given and received, Christmas music (see here for more about that), sharing important news, traveling, and keeping happy secrets. I just don't like trying to do it all at once. I am "doing" Christmas, correcting end-of-term projects, feeling bad about once again failing to send Christmas cards, doubting that I have paid sufficient attention to the due dates of my utility bills, sleeping a bit fitfully and wishing it were next week.
Nevertheless, how can you help but like all this? I am in the parish choir this year and get to prepare wonderful music for Christmas Eve. In fact, I can't get Gaudete out of my head (especially our music director imitating the first version he ever heard --Steeleye Span doing it in a thick UK accent). I will get to see people I love and people I hardly ever get to see, including my in-laws-to-be. I will find out what my daughter has chosen to give me that has her so excited. I will even get to go to a baby shower for my first grandchild. I believe I will get everything done, not because I see how that will happen, but because I know him in whom I trust.
Which reminds me, this very minute there are things I need to be doing. If I trust God, I ought to be someone he can trust to do what's necessary, so off I go. Many warm regards and God's blessings on a happy final week of Advent.
But the Narnia book that keeps coming to my mind in this season is The Last Battle. It tells of combat that seems more hopeless than any that has come before, and for good reason. It will be the final campaign for the kingdom of Narnia. Toward the end, the good guys are hopelessly resisting being forced into a stable(!) in which they are to meet certain death. But when they are finally cast through the hated doorway, they are in for a big surprise. Though they expect to confront an executioner behind the door of a dim and smelly outbuilding, they find themselves instead in a glorious new country, more wonderful than any they have seen before. It is Aslan's Country in which they find themselves able to run without tiring and more joyful and fruitful than they ever thought possible. "The inside is bigger than the outside!", one of them exclaims.
Indeed. That motif has bubbled up for me throughout this entire Advent. The fruitful womb of the Blessed Virgin conceals the most magnificent miracle ever known. The fortified city, hidden and enclosed, contains the entire company of those the Lord protects (Psalm 108). The Blessed Mother hides under her cloak the whole Church for whom she prays to the Son who loves to say "yes" to her and to us. The inside is found to be bigger than the outside.
It's the semi-annual discomfort with my family about church: which Christmas Mass to go to so we can fit it into the hectic to-ing and fro-ing, "how fast can we get it over with," "there won't be extra singing or INCENSE, will there?"
I have to take my mother with me to church on holidays, she's not very mobile any more, and she likes to come and stay over and spend Christmas Eve night together. And I'm glad to have her. But that invokes the Sacred Holiday Law of spending every moment glued together at the hip, as well as its Preamble: we do what the oldest person wants to do because they're going to die any minute and you'll feel bad.
If Mass lasts more than 45 minutes, she's rolling her eyes and nudging me. Get up early? Or get to church early? Heaven forbid we sing a few pre-Mass carols. To add to the mix, my brother and his family are Unitarians, so they have the day off, and want family time on their schedule. They smile knowingly at us serfs when we explain that we must go to church, which totally curdles my dwindling supply of the milk of human kindness.
This is driving me crazy. Everything I try to use to (quite frankly) manipulate the situation is going nowhere, and I am forced to be frank and honest. But what do I say?
"Christmas means more to me every year, and church is an important part of it."
"I love going to Mass, and Mass on Christmas is extra-special."
"Christmas is a celebration of the miracle of our Savior's birth, and I want to spend time rejoicing at church."
"There's a freakin' reason for the season, OKAY?"
I try them all over in my mind, and I've even murmured a few of them during the opening skirmishes, and they sound so LAME. Maybe it's because they're right out front about my faith, and I'm still a chicken around my family, because I spent so many years not caring, or not caring enough to assert my priorities.
Do you have a sure-fire statement that shuts'em up and gets them to cooperate?
It's time to kick back and do a little relaxin' in the liturgical calendar. Tomorrow is Gaudete Sunday, "Rejoice Sunday," so named because the first word in the first reading of the Mass (Phil 4:4) is "Rejoice!" The Church in her wisdom gives us these breaks in our penitential seasons, to raise our heads from the bowed positions they should be in. I want to make sure that I notice the change, since my head's been sneaking up from my original Advent goals of prayer and penitence.
Rejoice in the Lord alway: and again I say, Rejoice!
Lent has its "by week" as well, starting with Laudete Sunday, again from the opening word of the first reading. The verb "Laudare" usually defines the expression or the berbalization of praise from our mouths. The verb "Gaudare" often describes action more than words, appearance more than intention. (We get the word "gaudy" from it, which has declined into a sort of negative way of pointing out the flashy or "loud" aspect of someone or something.)
I like Gaudete better: it sounds "noisier" than Laudete. I'm in the mood for a little noise...
Note that these words, Gaudete and Laudete, are commands. The "te" is a "you" after the imperative form of the verb. "Rejoice, you!"
So, we are commanded to give God praise, and in that, we should be happy and celebrate that we know that we have a God and Creator to praise, and what He's done for us, coming all that way to be born and live among us.
The priest should (although some, sadly, don't) wear rose-colored vestments on Gaudete and Laudete Sundays. Our parish's only set of rose vestments veers, no, crashes heavily into powder room pink and are quite forcefully ugly in pattern, too, so only the bravest priest puts them on, the others opting instead for white or gold.
I hope you all have a little feast in honor of our praise of God, a feast of fellowship or fun or food. I'm making pot roast and having friends over to bake pizzelle cookies for Christmas.
I continue on Weight Watchers, losing weight realllly slowly (heading towards 40 lbs total since May). They say it's a process, not a diet, and they're right. Some weeks are easier than others, and I'm getting the hang, sort of, of "balancing" a day: go out for a big festive family brunch and eat fruit for dinner, contentedly.
But man, is this a hard time of year. For two historical reasons:
1. I don't think I've had an adult year until this year when I didn't hit December first and think "Well, there are about twenty days until Christmas. I could lose twenty lbs! Or ten lbs! I could be down a whole size and fit into that whatever on the hanger, or that size in the store....." On December second, I would get up, do a 1/2 hour of aerobics, pack six celery seeds and an eyedropper of water for lunch, park eight miles from the office and walk briskly.....then all the flurry of aerobics and calorie-counting and whatnot fades off nearly immediately into another grim status quo, another "fat Christmas." (This was even in years I wasn't overweight by more than ten pounds - sheer habit.)
2. Chocolate chip cookies! Aunt Mary's candy! Mom's Hungarian horns! My peanut brittle! My stollen! Homemade this and special that comes rolling into the house, and even worse, into the office. It doesn't seem like Christmas unless there are some red and green Hershey's Kiss wrappers in the cupholder in the car....
The grace of Advent helps with both these issues, I'm finding, with God's help. First, we WAIT for the feast, we don't fall face forward into it. We give up lesser things and wait upon the Greater. When we do arrive at the Holy Day, we do enjoy the happy tastes, smells and sounds of life, but in reflection of His Gift, not just because. Second, if we trust, whether it be in the Weight Watchers Points System or in the Word of God, and stop making every last little damn decision ourselves, we will prosper. This is not to make God into a system, but He did give us a system, a model, a path, a Way. I think adults just don't trust enough, in anything. We are super-competent and judge all for ourselves. It's good to trust in God, and the gift He has given me of Weight Watchers.
The biggest revelation of all to me is that, if I firmly believe that God has given me my life, my gifts, and the meal in front of me, that it would be piggish to be, well, piggish. If what is in front of me is of MY OWN DOING, that I got it, made it, bought it with my money, then if feels like it's MINE, and I can treat it as my right and can consume it, spend it, eat it, give it away, even, using only my own satiety and sense of status as a measure of "enough."
So, I'm making the usual stuff (maybe I'll post a few recipes as we go along), to give much as gifts, but to leave some for home, for entertaining and for myself. I'm very comfortable for some reason in putting it all away, without leaving out one or two or a hundred: I am promised that we will feast, on Christmas Day. Why that's making the difference, I don't know - guess it's that Grace thing.
I'm also not obsessing over what I shall weigh on Christmas Day. I'm losing weight, I'm working to look and feel better, and with God's Hand on me, it will come in His Time.
I don't want to make it sound like this is totally easy, but it's certainly joyous around here lately.