I recently had a brief conversation with an acquaintance about Christmas. The older adult indicated that they didn’t have much to “get ready” as Christmas really is for children. Their statement was what it was, neither good nor bad. But I have been pondering this ever since.
The “reason for the season” is Jesus, as the church sign reminds me when I drive to work each day. Even though there is much in our culture that directs this holiday toward children, perhaps we all need to ponder what Christmas means for us grown-ups.
Companionship in Times of Uncertainty
The Christmas story, with the birth of the baby at its center, is about the relationships of community. It begins with the pregnant Mary, who needed the companionship of Elizabeth. Both cousins were facing the unexpected and the unknown. So too, do we need the companionship of trusted friends and relatives who are experiencing similar life-altering and life-giving pursuits. The companionship during times of change and anticipation of future events is still important.
Counting the Clan
The setting of the Christmas story takes place in Bethlehem because the empire needed to count the family clans. So, the distant relatives came together to be counted. In a way, we do our own census with the sending of greetings in Christmas cards and through online memes and missives. As we update addresses and email accounts, we are keeping track of all who are a part of our own clan. Christmas is nurturing the connections we have with those near and far. Christmas is about connections with our clan, both those to whom we belong by birth and by choice.
As the emperor’s census mandate dictated that people return to their hometowns, it was not unexpected that the inn was full. Today’s Christmas pageants often depict the inn keeper as being indifferent to Joseph and Mary. But there were no rooms. He extended what he could offer, room in the barn-cave. Christmas is about extending hospitality in the presence of the gathered community — hospitality that must come from our understanding of the needs of the other and of the resources we have to offer.
The shepherds were gathered in the fields when they witnessed the angel chorus. As much as I love the rhythm of the educational schedules of schools with an extended break, the shepherds were working. So too, in our adult lives, do we have to continue to work, often with little more than a day away from regular routines. And yet the shepherds give us an image and reminder of people who shared in the observance of the holy at work. Together, they verified that they had heard the angel and the chorus. They shared a sense of awe in the midst of the unknown. They gave witness to a sign of hope in uncertain times. Perhaps we need to think of our working selves as the shepherds keeping watch, not only for our flocks of responsibilities, but for signs of the holy lighting the darkness around us.
The Journey of Proclaimation
And finally, the wise travelers were on a journey together. They headed through the wilderness, willing to be led toward a distant and foreign civilization. They asked for directions. They assessed their encounters and altered their route to protect themselves and the young family. They were the strangers that recognized the holy presence born in a manger. They carried word of God’s activity back to their homelands. This is the work of adults, not children. This is hard work of seeing beyond boundaries and familiarity into the face of the divine.
Christmas is about Community
This gathering of community is not child’s play. This is the necessary act of companionship. To be with others who are in similar situations can be a life-giving gift. To name and claim one’s family or clan of choice and be counted is about belonging. And when we are standing in the fields of our professions, doing our jobs day and night, Christmas provides a narrative of how we find the sacred in the midst of the everyday with co-workers.
According to the angel who brought the message to the shepherds, “Do not be afraid; for see — I am bringing you good news of great joy for all the people.” For all the people. For the children. For the parents. For those who are working in their fields. And for those whose families are not often pictured in the ads and Christmas movies, but who need to know that they are included. May you find ways to reach out to connect those around you who don’t feel as if this season has anything to do with them. And together, I hope you are able to experience light in the midst of the darkness of the season.