It’s the season when Christmas carols waft over and around us, and a quickening in our spirits anticipate the happy day. People merrily busy with gifts and plans for dinners and reunions, happy panic of the much not done yet. Cards being bought, gifts to be wrapped. Homes we pass, busy ovens, busy windows. New drapes, streamers, fresh cakes and cookies, evergreens being dressed. Christmas wreathes its magic, all and sundry caught up in the hope, love and joy it heralds.
But for some of us, our place is in the frost just outside of that circle of enveloping Christmas joy. To watch from the periphery. With aching hearts to see the Yuletide light twirl around, and choose to not settle on us. To see everyone else caught up in the giddy joy of the festive days, and wonder what we did wrong to not feel as light and as free and as hopeful. Within us we carry a quiet hurt that God’s magic wand somehow missed us. We hurt that we seem to carry burdens not cast on others. New burdens, old ones from years and old years before. Always us, the choice beast of burden. The grief inside us is a hurt we try to damp down and hide, because it seems to uncharitable to mar the beauty of the season with something that shouldn’t be there. It’s a shame we try to camouflage, that the joy everyone is experiencing is withheld from us, and it’s a wart we don’t want others to see.
So, some of us retreat from the world during the season of goldreds. Why inflict our black of hopelessness and despair on others? we ask ourselves. Why beg sympathy from the abundance of the joyful? We retreat, and we hope no one notices because we have no answers to their prodding queries. We retreat out of shame because we bear the black mark of sorrow, a defect that stands out more in the face of so much surrounding merriment. We retreat and hide because it’s much easier on everyone this way.
But if retreat from cheer is not an option in the Christmas season, we might plaster on a smile, pretend an ebullience that is not there, so as not to be singled out for a Yuletide inquisition. It gives us anonymity, and allows us to blend into the background of happy. No worries here, move on, please, we grin till it hurts. Pretense buys us the relief of space and time away from the reality of the emptiness in our own lives, where lives a barrenness that refuses to die. And so, we laugh along with others, and hope the hollowness doesn’t show, and pretend to love and be loved.
Yet, nothing blinds us from seeing that emptiness has a weight that bears down harder than fullness.
And the cross bites deep into our wounded shoulders.
In our little nook in the frost, an ancient truth almost escapes us ~ Christmas is not about us. A Christian pilgrim Christmas is about Love. Love born of holy obedience. Love blossoming and flourishing in the kingdom of hardship. Love birthed to bring joy to sorrowing hearts.
A Christian Christmas is the wounded pilgrim taking Jesus-joy to the fellow wounded. It is the meal we cook for the lonely when we too only have emptiness to return to. It is the card we send to someone who needs to know love, although ours is the address everyone forgets. It is the prayers we sob for broken hearts in other homes when our own children have broken our hearts. The gentle empathy offered by a lonely widow whose husband will never return, to a young, frazzled wife whose husband works far from home.
The pilgrim Christmas is taking love to where it has long been dead. To coax life and joy back into bitter deserts. To inject hope and resurrect life. It is to love even as we weep from our own unhealed wounds. It is to draw from our own pain to touch the sometimes, lesser wounds of others.
And this sowing of Jesus-joy in souls is inadequate if it comes from a filled heart, for there’s sometimes, nothing more dispiriting than to receive from material abundance, because it underscores a grieving soul’s squalor.
So, it is precisely when we feel we are running on empty, that the purest giving can we bequeath to others. The parchedness of our own waiting for Jesus-joy must lead us to a Bernadette response ~ to dig streams of Lourdes in the lives of other pilgrims, so that they may receive the gifts of healing and hope. Our seemingly empty lives must never lead us away from the pilgrim path of giving, onto the dark alleys of self, because to feel our barrenness is to be filled with God, and this Light must be shared.
The pilgrim Christmas is the antithesis of the world’s Christmas. Ours is a light for the poor, and a holly wreath of tender charity foreign to the world we occupy, and it will earn us ridicule and derision. But it is the way of heaven that for the sunrise joy of Christmas to bloom in us, we must first take it in obedience to where God wills us, and sow it in hearts not ours, so that the mourner’s dirge be transformed into a Gloria.
For the Christmas cannot come to us before it comes to others.