Christmas, a bright light at a dark time, illuminating the Christ, our bright guiding light in a dark life, in a dark world. A time I have come to know as the spring board for the ordinary time, that I may grow deeper with Him through out the year. A time of feasting, drenching myself in Him, that I may be bolder, stronger to drench myself in Him everyday.
The whole season is saturated with symbolism, metaphor. There is hardly anything that I look upon that does not cause me to see the bright light in my life that is Christ. There are things that most definitely are not directly a symbol of my Lord, but not unlike the meal blessing song that we sang in Girl Scouts, there is something in back of that, and then something in back of that and then in back of all there is a direct witness to Christ, my Savior.
Some symbols, metaphors, allegories or witnesses present in this season are purposeful, some accidental, many borrowed from the very cultures that Christ invaded. But all help bring my Lord to mind, His unfathomable grace, mercy, divinity.
Rudolf. How more unspiritual can you get than my little friend Abby's sweet Rudolph toy that I picked up off the floor while she is visiting here? But as I picked it up, my thoughts trailed. Rudolf, the red nosed reindeer. One of Santa's reindeer. Santa, a character that we have formed from St. Nicholas. St. Nicholas, Nicholas of Myra, a third century bishop, known for his giving, his caring, his working in consort with his Lord, Jesus Christ.
One of the many in the growing cloud of witnesses that I have in my life to spur me on to love and good deeds. Good deeds that for my husband and I include great care, concern, prayer for marriage and purity. When I become tired and weary, for certain my strength comes from the Lord, but He uses my memory of a life such as Nicholas of Myra, a fellow human, a fellow lover of Christ, to spur me on.
Or the wreath of ivy that my daughter hung on an empty nail near my mother's picture, the wreath my daughter wore on December thirteenth, St. Lucia Day. It reminds me of a young woman, brave in her love of her only Savior, brave to the point of torture, humiliation and painful death. Will my daughters be so brave if a time such as that comes for them? I pray that they will. And if, by their depicting Saint Lucia one day a year each year, they are spurred on to hold strong to their Lord in the face of adversity or torture, then I thank the Holy Spirit for bringing the tradition into our lives.
Little things about my house this time of year, a toy reindeer, a crown of ivy intertwined with a red ribbon, the evergreens, the lights, the candles, Santa hats, holly, lambs, symbols. Symbols, metaphors, allegories, witness.
What would our world be without symbols? These very letters I am typing on the screen are a symbol, the simplest of symbols, known to just about everyone, used by nearly all. We are dependent on these symbols. Like the symbols we write in our check register to represent the money we have, we need to be able to use these symbols to have them represent spoken words, and ideas.
Other symbols we are less dependent on, but utterly dependent on what they represent. The cross that hangs on a chain around so many necks or stands tall on a building where believers gather, even those who do not claim Jesus as their Lord and Savior know that it is a symbol. Some know fully that it is a symbol for Christians of their faith. The lamb holding a the banner of victory, the Greek letters for Chi Rho, a grape vine, not as universally understood as the cross but many find comfort in what these symbols represent, what they bring to mind, the very Master of symbol, metaphor, allegory, parable.
I'll admit that perhaps I need more symbols in my life than the next guy, I take them as my personal gift to help my mind break through the mundane and clutch the Divine. I am distracted, easily harried, caught in my own needs and flesh. Pictures, icons, symbols knock me right again. And again. And again. They bring whispered prayer to my cold lips, restore thankfulness to my hard heart, infuse joy to my defeated soul.
Like the smell of evergreens, alpine firs in the mountains amongst the huckleberry brush, as I grasp the branch and slide my hand down releasing the fragrance into the air and onto my hand, my mind flies back to Christmas. Christmas tree gathering with my father, my father's large hand holding mine as we listen to the Scripture being read at midnight service, Scripture telling of the salvation my Lord brings, my Lord as ever present, always the same, as the evergreen I grasp.
I'm not dependent on the symbols, not dependent on the witness, just what is witnessed. The strength, the power, the mercy, the forgiveness, the salvation that Christ brings. I am thankful for the symbols, thankful for the time to celebrate but incredibly thankful that it is not an inanimate object I worship or the observance of a particular day that is my salvation.
Yesterday was the beginning of Hanukkah and I was reminded of the many times that we have done our best to hold a Passover Seder. Each time I am blessed by the story the observance shows, the prophesy that it illuminates. But equally, I am blessed by the knowledge that I am not dependent on observance of Law for my salvation, that in fact the Law cannot save me only condemn me as the sinner and wretch that I am. It is not a day or a ceremony or a observance that saves my soul, that enables me to bear the burdens of life. It is whom the day, the ceremony, the observance points to.
Christmas is only a day, an ordinary day, no different than any other day. The Christmas miracle is not that death, grief, pain stop for this day, but this day reminds us that on a night, no different from the one we call Christmas, our God came to earth to be born of a simple young woman in a simple town in meager means. It reminds us that there was a night over two thousand years ago that God humbled himself, becoming incarnate, to bring the Good News. To free me from bondage.
The beauty and blessedness in this celebration is the freedom God gave through Christ, the gift of redemption, the only perfect gift ever given. No gift we give, no money we spend could ever come close to what has been already given by God. But knowing that does not bring me to not give gifts. There is no service that compares to what God has done and continues to do for us, but we still continue to serve, not like He needs us, but continuing to serve none the less.
Celebrating with gifts and feast, perfumes of firs and spices is not the source of my happiness, the source is only my Christ, the celebration is my gift to him, my worship during this arbitrary time on the calendar. Not unlike the perfume a woman spilled upon the very head of my King, upon his very feet, wiped with her hair and mixed with her tears, worth a year's wages, yes I suppose it could be said that the money spent on the celebration Christians enter into could be spent on what others think is more important, more worthy.
For some reason Jesus did not agree with the disciples and their pious condemnation of her actions of worship. He did not say that they indeed had a better idea, a better way of worship. In fact, he said that we would always have the poor, in spite of programs and giving we would never overcome poverty. I know he did not say that we ought not to give and care for the poor, in fact he claimed that whatever we do to the least we do for Him which could as easily have included "if we ignore the poor we ignore him." But yet, He not only did not chastise the woman for her "wasteful extravagance," He told those harassing her to leave her alone, and claimed that her story would be told with the gospel where ever it was proclaimed.
It is incredibly surprising to find that story amongst all the others in the gospels. Christ's words are very surprising indeed. We ought not to be surprised by the surprise, soaked in prayer we can come to hear the will of God, we can confidently step into this season in whatever manner He would desire for us to. Whether it be extravagant perfumed worship, or the humble meager quiet celebration of a free person. But no matter the direction in which we move, we move to the Holy Spirit's lead as a people unburdened from the Law and traditions of man as much as a people unburdened from the chains and bite of the evil one.
We are free, our freedom came from Christ who came on some night such as the one on which we will celebrate His incarnation. Our freedom does not come from our salary, our purchase power, our piety, our talents, our service to others, our participation in a seasonal giving program. Our freedom comes from Christ and for that my heart sings, my soul spills over with joy and peace no matter what the days ahead hold for me.
Dear Reader, as I come to a close here, I recognize that I have not been speaking to anyone in particular, that these words are self indulgent, these words I spoke from my heart for my heart. I do pray Dear Reader that you have heard and found in this season of Advent what you were listening and looking for, that you embark upon whatever worship of Jesus Christ, our only Lord and Saviour, that you have been called to.