In the Christmas classic, Dr. Seuss’ How the Grinch Stole Christmas, the residents of Whoville wake up on Christmas morning to find none of their Christmas trimmings in place. The Grinch has stolen their trees, their presents, their colorful lights, and their Christmas dinner. Yet, seemingly oblivious to this treachery, the Whoville denizens gather to sing and celebrate. Suddenly, the Grinch realizes that there is far more to Christmas than twinkling lights and pretty packages.
This year is my Christmas in Whoville. Instead of unpacking my favorite ornaments and trimming a tree I am packing up my house for major repairs. From the second story to the basement I am looking at exposed wall studs and bare rafters. Even my treasured nativity scene remains put away as my once cozy domicile turns into a construction zone.
In spite of the chaos and the steady parade of insurance adjustors and contractors, I do feel at peace this Christmas. Without the exterior trappings of Christmas, I looked inward this Advent and had far more time to reflect on the glory of the Incarnation than I have had in many years past.
The Christmas Anticipation Prayer
For several years I have prayed the Christmas Anticipation Prayer beginning on November 30, the Feast of St. Andrew, and continuing until Christmas. Traditionally this short prayer is said fifteen times per day. I am sure I say it more than that. It is a steady hum in my thoughts as I commute to work, prepare a meal, fold laundry, or accomplish some other mundane task. As a cold wind howls and I pull my coat tighter around me I think,
Hail and blessed be the hour and the moment when the Son of God was born of the most pure Virgin Mary at midnight, in Bethlehem, in the piercing cold.
The imagery is so vivid. It drives home the physical reality of the first Christmas. Mary and Joseph were real people who felt the cold, who felt fatigue, who had doubts, but who trusted God anyway.
Necessities and Luxuries
Because my home is so devoid of the symbols and signs of Advent and Christmas, I appreciate the music of the season much more this year. Our parish hosted an evening of Lessons and Carols. It was a wonderful spiritual exercise to meditate on the words of both scripture and hymns that spoke of the prophecies of the coming Messiah as well as the actual event of the Nativity of Christ. It was followed by a simple reception of cookies, eggnog and hot cocoa in the parish hall. There was no elaborate pageantry, but the evening embodied the true meaning of Christmas far more than technically stunning laser light shows or professional theatrical extravaganzas.
My bare-bones Advent and Christmas have also shown me that when we live with abundance it is easy to lose track of what is a necessity and what is a luxury. Instead of focusing on my own home and festivities I am much more able to see the needs of my neighbor. While my own home has its challenges right now, it is still a solid shelter. Not everyone is so lucky. This Christmas reminds me that even when I have lost much, I am still blessed with far more. It is easier to detach myself from my material possessions and give freely to those in need.
Three months ago I would have expected to find myself in December surrounded by all the familiar physical reminders of the season. Yet sometimes it is life’s unexpected curve balls that drive home the real meaning of Christmas. Mary was a pious Jewish woman going about her daily life when an angel appeared. She had the grace and faith to accept this unusual pregnancy simply because it was God’s will. Joseph was a righteous Jewish man who was confronted with the unexplained pregnancy of his betrothed wife. Yet when reassured by an angel in his dream that Mary was faithful and this pregnancy was through the power of the Holy Spirit, he trusted and took her into his home as his wife. Neither Mary nor Joseph anticipated this scenario, but both embraced it because it was God’s will.
A Time of Anticipation and Preparation
Every challenge and every cross is an opportunity for virtue. Pride and arrogance can delude me into thinking that I have complete control of my life. This year’s Christmas in Whoville reminds me that it is not my will but God’s will that matters. I cannot foresee when and where these challenges will arise, but I can trust that God’s love and mercy will fortify me and sustain me when they do.
I am looking forward to next year when my home is once again whole and my family can resume our cherished traditions. However, in spite of the lack of outward trappings, Advent 2016 has been a time of anticipation and preparation, and Christmas 2016 will still come in all of its glory. Like Cindy Lou Who, without a tree or bauble in sight, I will rise and sing on Christmas morning. There is no Grinch who can steal the real Christmas, because the Son of God really was born of the Virgin Mary, in Bethlehem, in the piercing cold.