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Celebrating Christmas all year long

C —  Connection is the priceless possibility for many of us. My personal experience is through the ties with my children. Becky, my wife, is their very supportive stepmother (strange term?). In the past few days, my daughter, Christine —  what a delight —  presently lives in her own residence in the Twin Cities. She has completed 26 years working at a group home where the residents are disabled and need specialized care. The pandemic has also invaded that residence. My son, Christopher, is feeling, I guess, that his degree from Hamline University needs some “touching up!” He is now seeking an advanced degree at a university in Baltimore, Maryland.  Special loves are cooking, with involvement in environmental issues and projects. I say, “right on!”

We are people who, for safety and health reasons, are seeking creative ways to be touched, keeping relationships warm, and being satisfied within certain boundaries. Even a greeting card with a waving Santa is like a new dance step! The connections in the sacred story are seen in the bonding of Mary and Elizabeth (Luke 1:36).

H — History is not just past tense; it is presently in the making. My recent conversation with Father James Steffes at St. Augustine Catholic Church was a reminder of what I have in the past remarked. By the Babe of Bethlehem, we are Catholic and Protestant (of a great variety) siblings. We do not stress our differences —  and there are a number, a varied cast of interpretations —  but put everything in a blender and hope to have a perfect reflection of the life of Jesus. But we, especially at Christmas, lower the temperature on any disagreements and by a special grace sing together “O Little Town of Bethlehem.” Acknowledging and living with some differences may be a spiritual virtue.

R —  Restore is what I believe is the potential of the sacred story.  Wise men from the east (Matthew 2:7-12) heard of the miracle birth; a manger becoming a kind of throne!

It gives me reason to also be among those who are seekers. It’s also why I can respond to the recent newsletter of Father Steffes:

“Have you ever felt like life is out of control; maybe not your own —  maybe your own —  but certainly everything and almost everyone that seems to be whirling about your existence? Many people appear stressed, anxious, unhappy, and frantically looking to find or claim something that can make them feel better than they do or at least give them a sense of control amidst the chaos. Almost everything – work, play, meetings, appointments, events, encounters (6 feet apart), engagements (very sporadic) and relationships –  suddenly have become things that are overwhelming as families are juggling online school, daycare, work from home or longed for Friday night glasses of wine with friends, or barbeques and beer on the deck! Time is full and belabored, goes by quickly and yet can feel empty. Everything and everyone seems to be in overdrive, all-wheel drive, traversing the rough terrain of life. The family is running in different directions within the same four walls, school and work no longer bring stability to people, the Church still seems to be in crisis, the Country in turmoil and our world in chaos. Maybe this is a bit of an exaggeration, maybe not.”

I —  Instability in the world of the first Christmas was a fact. Was Jesus safe from all harm? Often those in power or assumed authority used any device to retain their position. Today? Reading Matthew 2:16-23, we note the threatened leader, Herod, who in a rage, “sent and killed all the male children — who were two years old or under.” The scripture, in verse 18, also in response to Herod’s decrees, states there was “wailing and loud lamentation.” But in all of this, Jesus survived. And Herod? This ugly, deceitful, abusive, jealous king died, verse 19, and “an angel of the Lord appeared.”

S — Serenity is a condition, a state of peace, that can be nurtured. It is like a garden that can be nurtured. A friend of mine wrote the following, best put in context. She had a prior hobby before her accident. For a long time she was a gardener. Did inhabiting her garden give her a larger view of her troubles? Her story is, “trying to imitate Evel Knievel, I ‘flew’ into a steel bridge railing while biking my favorite trail. However, I did miss the two people on the path. The result was two fractured arms, a plate and screws into the left radius and a sling worn for six weeks for a break in the right humerus, a three-day hospital stay, two weeks at a nursing home, tons of therapy, and no driving for seven weeks. UGH! However, I am thankful to God for healing, not injuring my legs or helmetless head, medicare, health insurance and friends and family for all their help.”

Are there words and melody in a seasonal carol that may soften the blows?  How about a song by Carole King?

T —  Trust is one of those very fragile emotions – an actual will of the mind.  Can children, by lessons, examples, and exposure become more peace-loving? Can they, and we, become more trusting in a better future? Can “no more war” become more than a slogan? Exposure to artistic creations provides correct thinking.

At an unusual art gallery in downtown Detroit, the Rev. Jim Bristah coaxes youth from a nearby church to react to an exhibit of prints by a renowned artist. Gradually, they ask probing questions and make poignant comments about the graphic images of war and peace around them. Once again, the gallery’s mission is accomplished.

“Art is such a powerful, persuasive way to reach into people’s lives and change their consciousness,” said Bristah, a retired minister and veteran peace activist. He and his wife, Jo, founded the Swords into Plowshares Peace Center and Gallery next door to Central United Methodist Church.

M — Memory that goes back to my youngest years is still moving me. I recall Christmas Eve, so long ago, in a Pentecostal church (a bit noisy back then), with hands raised, singing, “Silent Night, Holy Night.” Those experiences still hold onto me. And you? Can you relive some stabilizing memories? The traditions of Christianity have often grown out of the Old Testament and the practice of the Jewish expressions, although the details of Hanikkah, for instance, lighting eight candles (the Festival of Lights) each December, and liturgical practices, are abundant among many Christians.

A — Acceptance of you is at the same time acceptance of myself. The mystery of self is that we are bound together in our humanity. It’s probably why Rosa Parks, a black woman in the Deep South, would risk getting on a bus with seats for “whites only” and take a seat in the front. Maybe in this frightful event, she was humming, “A Mighty Fortress is Our God.” Was she in the culture of racism thrown out in the mud?

S — Salutation is an act, a pledge that is given in that stable that enclosed the child Jesus. Can we hear it —  “You’ll be OK. Stay with me!” In a salutation, we bestow on another person our love. This may wipe away both their tears and our tears. But wisely we push the tears from our eyes.  Tears may blur our vision. Our vision is clear.

We may understand the remark made by a visiting professor, teaching a group of men, giving a different twist on the meaning of Christmas. Among the group was a man, once a student in New York City 40 years ago, when John Lennon was assassinated. “Following that, I, a lover of the Beatles, found relief and peace at the Baptist Church in Harlem at Christmas Eve service. Now, please hear me out. If you are here to help me, you are wasting your time. But if you have come because your liberation is bound up with mine, then let us work together.”  I’ll shake on that!

We now sing:  “Joy to the World, the Lord is Come.