Christmas–the day I’ve been in denial about–is approaching fast, and I am feeling scattered. Some of my handmade gifts are not coming together, which is a polite way of saying I have apparently been laboring under the delusion that I can sew. I’m also feeling self-conscious about there being few gifts for people in general. Most of all, I’m having a hard time putting aside my worries–about my daughter, my husband, money, health, the future…in order to concentrate on the fun aspects of the holiday.
Christians talk about the need for remembering the true spirit of Christmas in this season. When they say this, they are usually referring to the Biblical story of Jesus’ birth and its associated values of hope and redemption. Although I am not a Christian, it was the primary religion in the area where I was born, and I grew up knowing the basic story: Joseph and Mary, angels, shepherds, Bethlehem, no room at the inn, manger, wise men, etc.
Since I find inspiration in many spiritually oriented sources, on this particular holiday it’s helping me to think about this story. But the way I am thinking about it is a little weird: I see that Jesus being born is a symbol of new hope and change, but that’s not what is speaking to me today.
Today, the Christmas story is about dealing with the unexpected. It’s about being lost on the way to something new, and learning to live with it. It’s about how it feels when things don’t go as planned, and yet, if one opens to the experience, something wonderful happens.
It’s about Joseph, thinking how complicated his life has become since his fiancée turned up pregnant and the townsfolk began to talk. It’s about Mary in labor in a dirty stable, her hair plastered to her forehead with sweat, thinking she can’t do this any more; this isn’t how the birth was supposed to go. It’s about one of the wise men, who’s thinking about how long he’s been on this quest and how his friends at home probably think he’s an idiot. And it’s about Jesus, who, like any newborn baby, is bombarded with light and sound and unfamiliar sensation and has no idea what to make of it all.
It’s about thresholds and wilderness journeys and liminal states of all kinds. It’s about the fact that new things are new, by definition, and we’re not going to understand the way they come about. That iconic scene of everyone gathered round the manger after the birth is about acceptance of the mystery: being present in the untidy, unexpected moment. How the purity of presence, of attention, practiced by all there transforms that moment into wholeness.
I wish all Christians a joyous celebration of Christ’s birth, and I wish all of us a week of love, good self-care, and presence in the moment.