Mother Nature has flexed her muscles once again and humbled the Winter Solstice with an astonishing energy and power. And so it is with the final days of Advent edging towards the celebration of Christmas: the enigma of real life events unfolding all around us and the incongruence of a holiday bursting with a brilliant joy. And there, slipping through the hours towards Christmas Eve, recalling the meaning of the night, allows lingering with the realization that we are not alone in the journey. There are those who have walked before us and their stories, in so many ways, can empower and strengthen and encourage. Remembering the stories is part of following the star.
Steeped in centuries of tradition, holiday celebrations easily overwhelm the startlingly simple story of the journey to Bethlehem, the birth of Jesus and the symbolism of the Magi’s seeking him out. This year, that simple story speaks stirring truth about the complexity of the human and the gifts of the divine. There is fragility, connection, challenge and the incredible. All are so much a part of this 21st century world. Like a classic piece of literature, there is timelessness; like the self-help genre, there is basic wisdom wedged into the details.
Fragility, vulnerability, is visible in every figure. Uncertain and puzzled, there is Joseph, a caretaker betrothed and shocked. There is Mary, pregnant and young, and both of them subject to the demands of the government census. They are tossed about by the process in the same way succeeding generations under other governments in later centuries struggle. People without power yet part of a greater whole…fragile and vulnerable to the unwelcoming landscape of a changing world. So it is with our world, our lives.
Still, there are connections: between Mary and Joseph, with the innkeeper and then the shepherds and even the Magi. Aware of it or not, we live within webs of connections and networks. At times, they profoundly influence and enhance sense of purpose and positive growth; at other times, they are sources of searing grief and seemingly impossible challenge. Like a mirror, the Christmas story reflects the reality of connections and what that means in each person’s life. Kindness of strangers, the unanticipated moments, have been happening forever just as they happen now. Christmas is an invitation to realize that others have navigated waters like these before us and somehow survived. Hope nestles in each part of the story and invites us to allow ourselves that luxury in even the darkest moments and to celebrate it especially in the best of times.
Challenges both large and small abound in our world. Morality and ethics, truth and honesty, love and respect, all have elements and facets of struggle in choices and decisions, Considering carefully the options, the impact of choices, and fidelity to what really matters is the daily work that makes us who we are. Mary and Joseph faced all that. The lack of detail in their story leaves room to realize that there is always room for the patterns of our own lives. There are no magic responses or unfailingly easy paths. So it was. So it has been. So it is. Their story enables and empowers us to see there is a way. Finding that midnight path is crucial for each of us.
Finally, their story notes the majesty and mysteries of the sky, the wonder of divine intervention. In so doing, it affords us the ability to allow ourselves to step beyond jaded cynicism, to dare to pause in the midst of frantic activity to simply be. Be alive to the moment, attentive to the circumstance, to cherish both the tangible and intangible and to trust in something, someone, far greater than self. Maybe it is actually the most relevant story of all. Maybe the Christmas story is actually our story.