Most of us, by now, will have emerged from our food binge and begun preparing for the heart of the “holiday season.”

In the United States that means Hannukah and Christmas. Both are related in some fashion to the victory of light over darkness and of righteousness over evil. This is a season of contrasts and emotional tension. By tension, I do not mean the type that causes arguments but rather the type that causes reflection and can lead to surprising moments of joy and contentment.

We all know that Christmas is not what it used to be. It has changed from a heretical observance, to one that replaced a similar pagan practice, to a solemn mass, to a banned drunken spectacle, to a Dickensian novel, to Bing Crosby’s “White Christmas.”

Today (at least until 2020) this season has come to be associated with the most explicit expression of consumerism/materialism the planet has ever known. The celebration of the Christmas season for some begins with a fight over a cheap television.

But for now, let us think about those beautiful tensions that will no doubt be experienced by us between now and the turn of 2021. The Gospel of John begins with, “In him was life, and the life was the light of men. The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it.” (John 1:4-5, RSV). It is no accident that the celebration of the birth of Christ settled very near to the darkest day of the year in our hemisphere.

There is tension between light and darkness. We put up lights for ourselves and for others to admire and enjoy. It is a time of year when we need more light because it stays dark for so many hours. We can clearly see why the metaphor of light and darkness works so well in understanding our spirituality.

Our family uses a wood fireplace. Sitting right on the hearth is the most popular seat in the house. Most sit there long enough for their clothes to get hot to the touch. There are few things more wonderful than hot chocolate, a blanket, and a fire on a cold night.

It is a time of year when we can clearly be thankful for protection from the danger of cold. The difference between being warm and safe and cold and threatened is stark. Say a prayer for those who are not so blessed. Better, if you have the opportunity, do something to help someone be warm and safe this year.

This is a time of giving and receiving. It is always important for us to remember that before we can give anything, we have first received. This is true of gifts, money, food, and spiritual or emotional support. Many of us are much better at giving than receiving.

This is a time of year to be gracious in both and remember what you have been given in life that makes it possible to give to others. If you are not able to give to others, be thankful for those around you who are able to help. There is blessing to be found in both.

Perhaps the most beautiful tension is that of togetherness and missing. This year, for many families, will be unusual. We have one in school that was not allowed home this year, so he had Thanksgiving with just over 4,000 others in the same situation.

It is at this time of year that we notice how life moves on and changes from year to year. There are young ones gathered who never knew those of previous generations.

The children grow to adulthood and have their own eventually. The adults grow older and one year are no longer there at the table. For Christmas and Thanksgiving meals they may be there in the decorations or a favorite recipe, but their physical presence is missed.

Our family usually has a couple of visitors around our table at Thanksgiving and Christmas. (Probably not this year.) The fellowship around food is wonderful. The tension between inviting new members of the family (through marriage or birth) and the joy that brings is set against those who are absent. Raise a glass to both and be prepared for joy.

By the time Christmas rolls around we are through the worst of the darkness, if not the cold. This is an emotional time of year. Embrace it for what it is. Keep your traditions alive and create new ones.

This year will be an especially difficult season for many. Do not forget others. Remember that the light is in the world. After winter, there will be spring.

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