She was a young mother, not more than 25, and carried an eight-month-old baby girl in a front-facing baby wrap. With her left hand she guided her other daughter towards the Baby Jesus statue in our Book Center yesterday here in Alexandria, Virginia. It was our annual Baby Jesus Party and families were arriving all day to take their pictures with Baby Jesus and shop for books that would feed their spirits. (I heard there is a shortage of Santas this year, but all the children could definitely hear Jesus calling, “Let the children come to me.”)
So many beautiful families yesterday, but while I took a few moments to sit down, it was through this woman that God granted me such a moment of grace.
As they left Baby Jesus, it was the older daughter, maybe about two years of age, who began to cry. Mom dropped down to her knees and put her arm around her daughter and said, “It’s okay.” Then she let her cry if that’s what she needed to do, assuring her every now and then over the next four minutes or so that her tears were okay, gently trying to guess what might be causing her distress.
As we gather near Jesus this Christmas season, we all have moments of tears, wistful memories of what could have been, empty places in our hearts and at our tables…. We, like the little girl, sometimes shed tears, and are unable to explain exactly what they mean or what it is we need. God, like a good mother, says to you, “It’s okay to cry.”
God wraps his arms around you, kneels down to look you right in the eye, and whispers, “It’s okay to feel the way you do.” In a season where we are told we should be happy and nostalgic and romantic and excitedly anticipating sleigh rides “over the mountains and through the hills to grandmother’s house we go….”, it’s more than okay if your heart also carries a weight that is tearing open the veil to eternity from whence comes “the Dawn from on High.”
So here are three things you can do if along with the sentiments of the season, you also find yourself shedding invisible tears:
- Give yourself the gift of Christmas alone-time just once. Eat your breakfast early one morning in front of your Christmas tree or crêche and just let everything be. Let the season soak in spiritually and emotionally. Let time pass without plans and alarms and getting ready for the next things to be done. No carols, no seasonal expectations, no putting yourself aside to make Christmas for someone else. Just as it takes time and protection from competing stimuli for short-term memories to convert into long-term memories, I believe it takes time and sacred quiet space for our experiences and feelings to sink into our spiritual consciousness and formatively shape who God is creating us to be.
- Do something “Christmassy” with family or friends that doesn’t involve any preparation. This afternoon I walked down to the waterfront here in Old Towne at the end of King Street. The river walk was a quiet place where I enjoyed the families who were out for the day. As I started back up King Street, though, I spontaneously called my dad just to say hi. A street musician was playing Christmas music on the saxophone and he so uplifted my heart! I needed to share it with someone else. Share what uplifts your heart with someone else, or go along with their fun for a few hours.
- Keep your Bible handy and dwell a bit on this passage from the prophet Baruch. If you have a designated prayer time like a turn for Eucharistic Adoration great, but just reading a few verses before you get out of bed each morning or during a coffee break will work just as well. As you read it, pay attention to the feelings this passage arouses in you, any memories, hopes and dreams. Pray the passage with a spirit of gratitude.
“Build up, build up, prepare the road!
Remove the obstacles out of the way of my people.”
For this is what the high and exalted One says—
he who lives forever, whose name is holy:
“I live in a high and holy place,
but also with the one who is contrite and lowly in spirit,
to revive the spirit of the lowly
and to revive the heart of the contrite.
I will not accuse them forever,
nor will I always be angry,
for then they would faint away because of me—
the very people I have created.
I was enraged by their sinful greed;
I punished them, and hid my face in anger,
yet they kept on in their willful ways.
I have seen their ways, but I will heal them;
I will guide them and restore comfort to Israel’s mourners,
creating praise on their lips.
Peace, peace, to those far and near,”
says the Lord. “And I will heal them.”
Take off the garment of your sorrow and affliction, O Jerusalem,
and put on forever the beauty of the glory from God.
Put on the robe of the righteousness that comes from God;
put on your head the diadem of the glory of the Everlasting;
for God will show your splendor everywhere under heaven.
For God will give you evermore the name,
“Righteous Peace, Godly Glory.”
Arise, O Jerusalem, stand upon the height;
look toward the east,
and see your children gathered from west and east
at the word of the Holy One,
rejoicing that God has remembered them.
For they went out from you on foot,
led away by their enemies;
but God will bring them back to you,
carried in glory, as on a royal throne.
For God has ordered that every high mountain and the everlasting hills be made low
and the valleys filled up, to make level ground,
so that Israel may walk safely in the glory of God.
The woods and every fragrant tree
have shaded Israel at God’s command.
For God will lead Israel with joy,
in the light of his glory,
with the mercy and righteousness that come from him.
Finally, I imagine some readers are a little worried that I seem to have moved on to Christmas when Advent is just half over. It is Gaudete Sunday, however, and lifting hearts that are sorrowful is the redemptive excitement of the season of Advent. At St. Mary’s Basilica on Royal Street, I noticed they already have the stable up, which at first surprised me. I figured they’d be sticklers for the Advent-Christmas divide. I went up to look at it more closely and the stable was populated with all the animals of the nativity scene. Just animals and a shepherd. After all, the place where the animals were kept would have been there before the night Jesus was born, and it would have been used for day-to-day shelter for shepherds and animals. Into that simple and humble reality, Jesus was born, a surprise guest who made our earth his home.
We too in Advent, and all year through, live our simple and humble daily lives, always waiting for the exciting moment when it clicks in our heart that Jesus who has already come is here with us right now. So perhaps instead of keeping the Advent-Christmas divide so strictly this year, your heart might rejoice in the comfort the Redeemer came to bring you, and give it as many days as you can to let it soak in. There is nothing more urgent for our hearts and our world to know than this Advent-Christmas promise: through Christ our Redeemer, God has history under his powerful love, walks the ordinary paths of his people holding them each by hand, and will ultimately bring all of the chaos caused by the human disorder emerging from our unruly hearts into the dominion of the Kingdom that will never end.
Image Credit: Anakarina via Cathopic