Tag Archives: Christmas

Who was Christ? What is Christmas?

Creche to Cross

A few years ago someone whose faith is different from mine asked me, “Don’t you find it strange that your religion makes jewelry out of an instrument of torture?”

At the time my mom had recently had a debilitating stroke, and I was wearing a white gold cross pendant that she had given me when I was a teenager after I had been baptized. I seldom wear it, but I’d put it on that day because I was feeling sad for the loss of the mom I knew, and it brought me comfort. It isn’t worth a lot, even when the price of gold is up, but it is the most expensive Christmas gift she bought during my childhood, and she bought it at a time when she and Dad had little money to spare.

I tilted my head and pondered what my acquaintance had asked. “I suppose so,” I admitted. Continue reading Who was Christ? What is Christmas?

Holiday Spirit? Part Two

Hanukkah at White House

Holiday Traditions at the White House

One of my readers, Phil Buckberg, posted a story in response to my Holiday Spirit? blog on Tuesday.  I was delighted that Phil offered his own story from the perspective of his own faith, which has been my vision for this blog since I launched it a little over a year ago.  Since I’m not always sure that people see the comments at the end of a blog, I asked him if I could repost his story, and he graciously agreed.  Thank you, Phil, for making this a dialogue.  I hope that his story will inspire others of you to join in the conversation, so here is today’s guest blog:

Many years ago, when I worked for Xerox, we held a holiday-time fundraiser for a colleague who was, as I recall, a very young widow with mounting bills. As it was December, we made it a holiday party in which many of us sang and danced and generally made fools of ourselves for a good cause.

Our “director” decided that, for one part of the show, we should all wear our corniest Christmas clothing, whatever it might be. I told her that, being Jewish, I didn’t actually own Christmas clothes, Continue reading Holiday Spirit? Part Two

Holiday Spirit?

Christmas Tree

Years ago, when I first moved to the DC area, a Jewish colleague shared a Christmas story with me.  She told me how, when she was in high school, she felt left out every December when her classmates had Christmas parties and she was never once invited.  After I heard her talk about how that made her feel, I would think of her each year, long after we went our separate ways to other jobs.  Hearing her story made me understand why the diverse county I work in asks staff not to display Christmas decorations.

In our county, we have a large Jewish population, and Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur are school holidays.  But unlike Christmas—and even Christmas Eve—which are paid holidays for all employees, only school-based ten-month employees have a paid day off on non-Christian holidays.  Jewish staff who work in the county offices must take vacation leave to observe their holy days.  Continue reading Holiday Spirit?

Back to Reality?

Crocheted Snowflake

A View through Mom’s Crocheted Snowflake

On the morning of December 26th of nearly every Christmas I spent at home, I’d get out of bed at my parents’ house to find Mom in the living room, surrounded by old boxes, the tree already bare again on one side.  I’d stand in the doorway, hands on my hips, exasperated that she had declared an end to the season.  But our house was tiny, and after I lived on my own in apartments that were bigger than the house where I grew up, I assumed that she just wanted her house back—that she didn’t want to share precious space with a tree that no longer had anything useful to offer.

One year, having grown up enough to look beyond myself, I asked her why she always took down the tree so soon after Christmas.  She turned from the tree, Santa ornament in hand, and looked from the ornament to me before she bent to put him into the box.  “I just think the tree is so sad once there aren’t any presents under it.”

I think of her now, as I sit before the tree trimmed with her crocheted snowflakes in a house suddenly quiet again.  Our children have gone in all directions to see other people they love before two of them leave to go back to the other side of the country.  But technology has allowed us to stay connected to them in a way my mom was only able to take advantage of for a couple of years before she was debilitated by a stroke.  During those two years, she was the oldest person I knew who used Facebook.

And in a few days, I know we’ll all be back to reality, back to the everydayness of life.  The babe in the manger will be a toddler who commands his mother’s full attention as he learns to walk and talk and be in a world that sees him only as another child.  The Gospels, written by men whose concerns in those days did not include caring for toddlers, tell us almost nothing of what life was like for Mary, the fully human woman who gives birth to a baby that is fully human, fully divine.  I like to imagine scenes that never appear in the Gospels, scenes where Joseph wonders if he’s ever going to have quiet time with his wife again, where Mary feels the human exasperation of dealing with a child who walks before he understands the meaning of the word no, where Jesus feels the constraints of a mother who doesn’t understand yet what he’s meant to do in the world.

We won’t see Jesus in the stories again until he’s twelve, on the verge of his teens and being just a little sassy with his mother when she finds him in the temple and asks him just what he thinks he’s doing worrying the life out of his parents.  I love that scene because it helps me to imagine a child and his mother not so different from us—engaged in the everydayness that comes after the joy of birth, the ordinariness that encompasses all the challenges and all the love of being a family.

For me, this is what God with us means—not just the in-awe divinity of Christmas but the in-the-muck humanness of our ordinary days.  By imagining what those lost years of Jesus’ childhood and young adulthood must have been like, I can think more clearly about breaking away from my own mother, about having my children challenge me, about facing the demands each day of being human in a world of other humans.

And so, for now, I love writing here in the soft glow of the white lights as the snow falls gently outside.  The tree will stay up a little while longer than my mother ever allowed.  We’ll enjoy a few more moments of having our children with us in the flesh, and then we’ll go back to the everydayness of our lives—sometimes challenging, sometimes uncomplicated.  But always, always connected by a love that is wonderfully human, wonderfully divine.

So tell me your stories of the ordinary after the extraordinary

Find Peace Together?

Lord, as I celebrate the birth of Jesus, please make me an instrument of your peace. Please let this be the year that we begin to find peace together.

This is my prayer–for Christmas, for every day. So today, I wish you a peaceful Christmas, whether or not you share my faith.  And I offer these, some of my favorite words of Christ, and I hope that, in return, my friends of other faiths will share their own holy texts of peace, that we may begin to see and seek what is best in all of us.
“Whatever house you enter, first say, ‘Peace to this house.’” Luke 10:5
“As [Jesus] came near and saw the city, he wept over it, saying, ‘If you, even you, had only recognized on this day the things that make for peace!’” Luke 19:41-42a
“While they were talking about this, Jesus himself stood among them and said to them, ‘Peace be with you.’” Luke 24:36
“Peace I leave with you; my peace I give to you. I do not give to you as the world gives. Do not let your hearts be troubled, and do not let them be afraid.” John 14:27
“Jesus said to them again, ‘Peace be with you.’” John 20:21
“Although the doors were shut, Jesus came and stood among them and said, ‘Peace be with you.’” John 20: 26
May it be so for us, children who long for a more peaceful world.  Peace be with you!

Get Rid of Clutter?

Christmas Clutter

I had planned to wrap gifts this evening. Over the weekend, I pulled roll after roll of red and green and white paper from the bins at a craft store and stacked them in my husband’s arms. Then we stopped at the area’s newest grocery store to buy a few fresh vegetables for these weeks between the gluttony of Thanksgiving and the sugary delicacies of Christmas. As we entered the store and the doors swished closed behind us, I was mesmerized by a carefully crafted and strategically placed display of satiny red paper with white reindeer, by shiny gold and blue foil, priced at two rolls for $3.00. How could I resist? I stacked four more rolls into the cart and skillfully maneuvered past all the young couples who stood in front of the seafood counter, the fresh vegetables, and the myriad cheeses and used their smart phones to compare prices.

So instead of wrapping gifts this evening, I sit here in front of the lighted Christmas tree, breathing in the smell of Fraser fir and the peace of Christ. Not a bad way to spend an evening. But why, you ask, am I not wrapping those presents?

A girl can change her mind, right? Perhaps it’s because I’m older and wiser now, learning to slow down, you’re thinking? But you would be wrong.

Instead, I’m sitting here thinking of my pastor’s Advent sermon series about getting rid of the clutter in our minds. Two Sundays ago, he made the entire congregation laugh out loud over and over again as he described the difference between himself and his wife, our co-pastor. Like me, she dislikes clutter. Like my husband, he has a much greater tolerance for untidiness, and he offered a very funny “scientific” explanation of the law of physics that ensures that clutter accumulates.

This was particularly amusing to my husband and me because we had just finished cleaning out the basement a few days before. I have six boxes of files from 30 years of teaching that I haven’t gone through in the five years since I left the classroom. At one point it was nine boxes, and I weeded through three before I tired of spending a day off sorting through handouts I was never likely to use again now that my job is to design lessons for interactive whiteboards. But I can’t quite bring myself to toss those other six boxes, even though I have used perhaps two handouts I saved before putting three boxes into the recycling bin. What if I throw out something great that I could have used—something I don’t have on a floppy disk or a CD or a flash drive?

And what does that have to do with wrapping gifts, you ask? At the same time that I refused to wheel those six boxes of files to the recycling bin, I insisted that my husband break down the stack of empty gift boxes he’s saved for the past two Christmases that filled up three storage shelves. And so he did. But he wasn’t happy as he stomped the boxes to break them down flat. One woman’s clutter is another man’s practicality.

And if you haven’t guessed it by now, I need those boxes. I broke my vow to avoid Cyber Monday and shop at the mall. I ordered most of my gifts online in spite of my recent blog to the contrary. But none of those items came with gift boxes. And so now, as I continue to stack those gifts on the bed in one of the guest rooms, a bed that needs to be cleared before our friends visit this weekend, I could have used those boxes that hadn’t been recycled for the past three years.

It’s a good thing that I’ve done a better job this year of uncluttering my mind.

So tell me a story. What’s your most beloved clutter?

Is the World Your Book?

Christmas Tree

Today is the first Sunday of Advent, and I am joyful.  After church my daughter and her boyfriend will join us to cut a live tree, and her friends will join us to decorate the tree and laugh and talk and share a meal and a cup of cheer.  And while I’m mindful of my faith, many of the traditions we share have little to do with the story of that babe’s birth in a manger.  While we share memories of our church filled with the soft light of hundreds of candles on Christmas Eve, many of us would be stumped if asked why we kill a live tree and bring it into the house with such delight or why we leave cookies and milk for the man in the red suit who finds a way into even those houses that don’t have chimneys.

When my siblings and I were children, our mom bought a set of World Book Encyclopedias, adding the annual volume each year, no matter how little money our parents had, to be sure our information never went out of date.  In those white books, embossed with gold print, some of the most worn pages were those that described how people in other countries celebrate Christmas.  So while we grew up in a tiny town in the Appalachian mountains, we knew that we shared this holiday with people in England and Italy and Germany and Denmark—people who seemed far away but close because of our shared enthusiasm for the babe in the manger who promised hope.

Having grown up in a town that was all white and all Protestant, I didn’t encounter a Catholic until I left home for college.  But I am happily married to a Polish Catholic, and because of those pages in my mom’s beloved encyclopedias, I’ve always had at least a partial understanding of how Catholicism differs from my faith.  So the only real stretch of understanding for me was moving from my mom’s and my childhood church’s non-alcoholic table to the wine and the bread that embodied the risen Christ.

But I didn’t truly know anyone of a non-Christian faith until I moved to the D.C. suburbs, where my school system closed in September for two Jewish holidays that I knew nothing about. And later, our department hired a Muslim of Pakistani descent, a woman who also knew much more about my faith than I knew about hers.  I quickly learned that my colleagues and friends of other faiths often knew more than most Christians about the holidays we celebrate.  And I know that on more than one occasion, my questions and curiosity revealed a complete ignorance of their faith that must have astonished them.  But I was strengthened in my fight against cancer when a young Jewish woman made me a framed hanging with a tiny scroll and a verse our faith traditions shared.  And my life was enriched when the Muslim woman brought a Pakistani meal for our department and explained as she broke bread with us the significance of each dish.

As we begin this month-long, boisterous celebration of our faith tradition, what would happen if each of us took the time to find out something about the traditions of other faiths?  What if I turned to that Buddhist whose quiet strength is often greater than my own and asked about his meditation practices?  What if I asked an atheist—with genuine curiosity instead of a desire to convert her—how she seeks to understand a world that is often vocal in its rejection of her?

As Twain’s character Huck Finn discovered as he floated down the Mississippi River on a raft with the man Tom, who his culture had taught him was only 3/5 of a human being, we cannot possibly hold to stereotypes when we truly get to know another human being in all the complexities that defy the way we’ve been taught to see them.  Every culture and faith has its villains and its heroes.  But once we see someone up close—and even learn to call him a friend—we learn that the complexities of human beings are far more interesting than the extremes in which we paint them from a distance.

And even if we live in areas that never allow us to know those of other cultures, the Internet has made the world a much smaller place.  I can now see videos—and even chat with—those people in far-away places that I could only read about in my mother’s World Book.  The world is now my book.  And isn’t that much more interesting?

Advent—for Christians, the word means the coming of the Christ. But what if it were also advent—a coming into place or view—where we begin to come to a fuller understanding of what’s best in us all?

What have you gained or learned from someone of another faith?