The family room floor is stacked with boxes of packed Christmas decorations, which spill into the garage where they wait to be hauled into the attic. For the first time in memory, I’m sad to see the festive trappings gone. Normally, I’m so done with the craziness and exhaustion of the season that December 26th sees me tackling the mess with a vengeance. My internal voice groans, “I want my house and life back,” and I hunger for the decluttering that makes me feel more in control.
This year is different. I entered the season in a peaceful, centered place with ample energy to enjoy the process of transforming the house, not just the result. I decided several years ago to scale back on the gifts and commercialization of the season. To simply be with the sacred celebration of holy presence that is otherwise lacking in our culture. To soak up the sights, sounds, and spirit of Advent and Christmas. To slow down in mindfulness and gratitude. My weeks were blessed with sweet connections with family and friends, with accompaniments of lights, sounds, and ornaments that daily made me smile, and with the exchange of simple personalized gifts intentionally made or bought to bring delight.
It feels a bit sad to drive through neighborhoods that for weeks have displayed dancing lights and beautiful wreaths and find the facades barren. The city seems slowly to be amping up in traffic and impatience. After this extended New Year’s weekend, I expect that sharing smiles and warm greetings with strangers will fade.
In that realization it dawned on me what I’ll really miss. The beauty of the season isn’t the decorations; it’s the actions and attitudes of those who celebrate it. The magic is in the heart, not in the garlands, lights, or bows.
What if we—what if I—chose to live the Christmas season throughout the year? What if the stories and proclamations of a special occasion didn’t fade? What might that look like?
It’s not really complicated at all: Simply be the one.
During this new year and decade, be the one who says yes to God’s outrageous, frightening, and confusing path for your life, as young Mary did. Like Joseph, be the one who embraces the sinful and broken ones with compassion, for he surely had no other logical lens for viewing Mary’s situation. Be the one who walks with those swollen with pain and promise. Be the one who protects and serves them, who stays with them when their challenges make them lag behind.
Be the one who welcomes the immigrants and the homeless. Provide the shelter you have even when it doesn’t feel like enough. Open whatever inn is at your disposal. In the face of overwhelming desperation, a stable and manger are better than being in the open on the bare ground.
Be the one who shepherds well the flock God has gathered around you. Regularly, look up at the sky and notice the twinkling lights of promise. Be the North Star that guides others to holy encounters. Be the one who celebrates with those experiencing joy, even when you don’t understand their outlook or circumstances. Go out of your way to bring them gifts, especially the one of your company.
In the symbol most dear to my heart, be the one who is an angel in this world. Proclaim the glad tidings of God’s sustaining presence, even when all feels hopeless to hearers far from a resting place. Visit those whose desires are still unmet, and offer assurance that God is good. Connect those in similar situations, just as the angel’s message prompted Mary to visit her cousin Elizabeth, who was also with child under surprising circumstances. Be God’s messenger, God’s angel.
Like the birth mother of the child of promise, ponder all these things in your heart, which is an important part of being. Savor who God ordains you to be in a hurting and frightening world. Be the one.
You’ll benefit as much as those you bless.
Marnie C. Ferree