Thursday, December 20, 2018

Making New Traditions at Christmas

Christmas is a season during which we often place great weight on tradition. We reenact, year after year, things we’ve done previously, elements of past Christmases that hold memory and meaning for us. Though we may balk at tradition at other times, we hold on to Christmas traditions with great zealousness.

Yet there are times when those traditions are no longer available to us. Children grow up, family members die, divorce happens, people move, etc. When these things happen, we grieve the loss of traditions. We may bemoan that things are not what they have been. We lose the patterns of holidays that are as comfortable and familiar as well-worn shoes.

We can become angry, blame those whose changes have wrought changes to our traditions, or simply let ourselves become depressed and despairing. When tempted to embrace an unhealthy emotion, maybe it is good to consider the first Christmas and the chaos it caused to all who were a part of it. An unmarried young woman, pregnant, a betrothed who sticks with her at the risk to his own reputation, a birth away from home and the difficult journey preceding it—there really was nothing very peaceful and calm about that first Christmas!

This year I am thinking of ways to create new traditions around this season.  The inspiration for this came from my Christmas tree. The Christmas I was separated from my spouse, I almost didn’t get a tree. Not knowing whether the separation would be temporary or permanent, the practical side of me thought not to, but I realized that having a tree could provide an emotional lift in a chaotic and stressful holiday season. To appease my practicality, I purchased a $15 prelit tabletop tree and a $1 package of small star ornaments for it. I tied a small gold ribbon at the top and placed my presents for family and friends around it.

This is my third Christmas with my little tree. While in Portland Oregon with friends, I found small wooden bird ornaments that fit both my tree and my personality (I love birds). Another friend brought me some small shiny balls to add to my tree. Decorating it this year was something I looked forward to, because it represented people and memories that I cherish.

My tree is inspiring me to consider how I might make more new traditions for the Christmas season. I want to embrace that things may be as chaotic as they were the first Christmas, and yet also imagine ways to create traditions that will be touchstones in the sometimes messy circumstances that are indicative of “real life.”

Whether your holiday season is chaotic or calm, I pray you can be patient, loving and centered in God’s peace, not just at this time of year but always. Merry Christmas!

Wednesday, December 5, 2018


Mary said,
“With all my heart I glorify the Lord!
     In the depths of who I am I rejoice in God my savior.
 He has looked with favor on the low status of his servant.
    Look! From now on, everyone will consider me highly favored
         because the mighty one has done great things for me.
Holy is his name.
     He shows mercy to everyone,
        from one generation to the next,
        who honors him as God.
 He has shown strength with his arm.
    He has scattered those with arrogant thoughts and proud inclinations.
     He has pulled the powerful down from their thrones
        and lifted up the lowly.
 He has filled the hungry with good things
    and sent the rich away empty-handed.
 He has come to the aid of his servant Israel,
        remembering his mercy,
     just as he promised to our ancestors,
        to Abraham and to Abraham’s descendants forever.”
                                                                Luke 1:46-55

Mary’s song of praise, the Magnificat, does more than hint at the upheaval that her son’s coming brings. Her prophetic word is clear. The coming of God in human form will reverse the usual order of things. The hungry will be fed. The lowly will be lifted. The powerful are stripped of their influence. The rich are sent away empty.

If you only read this text once a year during Advent, you might simply enjoy its poetic quality and miss the power of the words themselves. Mary’s song is regularly recited as part of Vespers, the evening prayer service of the daily office. This daily reading of this text allows the words to sink into us, and, in our affluent culture, may cause us to wonder if we truly welcome this change of affairs.

Mary has much to teach us beyond her prophecy. Mary shows us that our power and influence are less important than our availability. Loretta Ross-Gotta says: God asks us to give away everything of ourselves. The gift of greatest efficacy and power that we can offer God and creation is not our skills, gifts, abilities, and possessions. The wise men had their gold, frankincense, and myrrh, Paul and Peter had their preaching. Mary offered only space, love, belief. What is it that delivers Christ into the world—preaching, art, writing, scholarship, social justice? Those are all gifts well worth sharing. But preachers lose their charisma, scholarship grows pedantic, social justice alone cannot save us. In the end, when all other human gifts have met their inevitable limitation, it is . . . the bold virgin with a heart in love with God who makes a sanctuary of her life, who delivers Christ who then delivers us.

Mary’s prophecy is an invitation to us who are rich and powerful in comparison to the rest of the world. Mary encourages us to no longer rely on our influence or wealth, but to empty ourselves, give ourselves away, die to ourselves, and instead offer space and love to Christ who becomes our food, our wealth, our strength.

We cannot deliver ourselves. Our possessions, our influence, even the good works we do—none of these can deliver us. When we truly believe that God, who made us and loves us, will deliver us, we can sing with Mary, “With all my heart I glorify the Lord! In the depths of who I am I rejoice in God my savior.”