What a bizarre time this is; the Christmas season. Never is there a period of such polar opposites as there are at this time of year.
All around us we are bombarded with the imperative to consume, collect, grab, and grasp. There are lines of impatient, honking, beeping, cranky souls snaking through the shops and malls all around us. Incredible pressure is laid on people to find this or that gift for this or that niece or nephew, cousin or coworker. It can bring out the absolute worst in people (and let me add, the best).
THE WORST: I watched a woman in her 50s sitting in her car with her elderly mother curse out a car behind her for honking at her... one honk. And it was one of those friendly little honks too. Grandma just kinda slid deeper into her seat, clutching her purse.
When Sunday comes, we roll off to Church and hear just the opposite. "It is better to give than to receive" - "God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son..." - "wrapped him in swaddling clothes and laid him in a manger." The radio plays as we whiz through the thousands of cars in the parking lot, like vultures looking for an open space... "Away in a manger, no crib for his bed, the little Lord Jesus laid down his sweet head." We drive home flustered, past little glowing, plastic nativity scenes of a man and a woman kneeling in the snow, gazing down at a little plastic Child. A whole plastic, glowing mob of souls gathers round the Babe; kings and shepherds, the rich and the poor (and occasionally a big plastic Snowman or the Grinch, which is a whole other story). What do we make of all this? I was out shopping last year, trying to stay focused, trying to recall what we are moving towards in these next couple of days. Standing in a massive line at Borders, with Mr. Cranky Pants on his cell phone behind me, a youth in angst blurted "Merry (expletive) Christmas" to my left, as only a youth in angst can do. I prayed for a great awakening. I prayed the whole glitzy, glamourous scene would vanish, roll back like a stage curtain, and we would all find ourselves kneeling in that cold cave in that backwater town of Bethlehem. Unplugged, unknown, and alone... looking down at a very poor couple who had to find a place to rest their newborn baby... and the only "space" they could find was a feeding trough for animals in a stable. Scandalous.
That would make the news, wouldn't it? Wouldn't that stop us in our tracks? Hmmm, I don't think so. You learn when you go out into the wild, for a campfire, or a night of stargazing, that bright light can take away your night vision. Perhaps we'd do better to unplug ourselves for a little awhile in this season of lights, and maybe we'd get our vision back. We're told to be good consumers, to boost this failing economy. But this consumption of things will no more help our country than it will satisfy our souls. Someone else has come with a better plan for our salvation. He lays in a manger (the word means "to eat") and he is born in Bethlehem, which means literally "house of bread." And he looks at us all, racing about stuffing our stockings and stuffing our trunks with things. And he says, "Take and eat, take and drink; this is my Body, given up for you." We are invited to consume, to eat and by eating become one with the Love that has become our Food. This is the Love that truly satisfies! This is the Feast of Christmas!