Wednesday, December 24, 2014

The Real Meaning of Christmas?

As Christmas day nears each Advent, I find myself growing more reflective about this holy day, and what it all really means that God sent his Son to be born in a stable in Bethlehem.  Often, I find myself pondering the humble, and poor conditions of this birth, and what this signifies about God's great love for us, and his huge and undeserved condescension towards his creatures.  I think about the secret and quiet beginnings of Christ's life, and what messages we are to take from it all.

This year, though, I find my Christmas ponderings going in some different directions.  None of this is new, of course, and I'm sure many others have spoken on these things much more eloquently.  But here's what's been on my mind and in my heart.

Sacrificial Victim
 I've been so struck this Advent with the idea of Christ coming to Earth as our Savior.  We're not excited at Christmas simply because it's "Jesus' birthday", and Jesus someone whom we love very much.  We celebrate because God has finally sent the One who can save us from sin and death.  We are joyous because Christ has come to sacrifice Himself.  Because He will die.

 I think going through the Jesse tree for the second year now has really helped this point to hit home for me, as we've reviewed some of the important events and figures in salvation history.  Jesus was born so that he could die.

We recently attended a lovely little folk concert where the women performed the song I Wonder As I Wander.  I had heard the title of the song before, and the tune sounded somewhat familiar.  But until that night, I had never really paid attention to the lyrics.  I'm sure the singer's beautiful rendition and the perfect acoustics in the old stone church helped to add to the haunting mood of the song.  But even without those factors, I still would have been crying...

I wonder as I wander out under the sky
How Jesus the Saviour did come for to die
For poor orn'ry people like you and like I;
I wonder as I wander out under the sky

When Mary birthed Jesus 'twas in a cow's stall
With wise men and farmers and shepherds and all
But high from God's heaven, a star's light did fall
And the promise of ages it then did recall.

If Jesus had wanted for any wee thing
A star in the sky or a bird on the wing
Or all of God's Angels in heaven to sing
He surely could have it, 'cause he was the King

I wonder as I wander out under the sky
How Jesus the Saviour did come for to die
For poor orn'ry people like you and like I;
I wonder as I wander out under the sky

It's somewhat sobering to think that the "real meaning of Christmas" is that this infant child was born so that He could die.  "When God sent his Son into the world, it was not to reject the world, but so that the world might find salvation through him." (John 3:17, Knox Bible)

As I've been reflecting on the "weary world" that Christ was born into, and the people's longing for a Savior, I became aware of how glorious must have been the exultation when at last He was born.

If you read the Gospel accounts, it's clear that even if Christ did have a peaceful and quiet entrance into the world, His birth was accompanied by many amazing and mystical events.  Think of all the visits from Heavenly beings that surround the birth of Christ - Gabriel's visit to Zechariah and to Mary, the various dreams that advised Joseph and the wise men of the proper course of action, the Holy Spirit coming down on Elizabeth (and, of course, on Mary at Christ's conception).  And at Jesus' birth, the angels came down to earth to sing their songs of joy!

Botticelli - Mystic Nativity
Hearing Christmas carols these past few days, certain passages have stuck out to me:

"...Join the triumph of the skies;
With th' angelic host proclaim,
"Christ is born in Bethlehem..." 

"...While fields and floods, rocks, hills and plains,
Repeat the sounding joy,
Repeat the sounding joy,
Repeat, repeat the sounding joy."

"...From angels bending near the earth
To touch their harps of gold!....
And still their heavenly music floats
O'er all the weary world;
Above its sad and lowly plains
They bend on hovering wing.
And ever o'er its Babel sounds
The blessed angels sing."

"...A thrill of hope, the weary world rejoices
For yonder breaks a new and glorious morn!
Fall on your knees
O hear the angel voices..."

"Ding dong merrily on high,
In heav'n the bells are ringing:
Ding dong! verily the sky
Is riv'n with angel singing.
Gloria, Hosanna in excelsis!"

And there are similar passages in most every Christmas hymn.

Giotto - Nativity
Somehow, until this year I didn't fully see how strange and wonderful and unusual all this was - that Heaven touched Earth on this night.  It's just been filling me with such awe.  I'm even considering creating some sort of hanging "ring of angels" (made with printed out images from fine art) to suspend over our nativity set, to help remind us all of this in future years - the rejoicing of the Heavenly host!

This also teaches a fundamental theological truth:  Christ is both God and Man.  And this is made manifest at His birth, when the natural and the supernatural come together to rejoice.


I hope these little musings made sense.  I'll probably be back next time with fluffier stuff, like pictures of my kids and our Christmas decorations :-)

I'll leave you with a sweet poem that was sent to us in the mail, written by G.K. Chesterton:
The Christ-child lay on Mary's lap,
His hair was like a light.
(O weary, weary were the world,
But here is all aright.)

The Christ-child lay on Mary's breast
His hair was like a star.
(O stern and cunning are the kings,
But here the true hearts are.)

The Christ-child lay on Mary's heart,
His hair was like a fire.
(O weary, weary is the world,
But here the world's desire.)

The Christ-child stood on Mary's knee,
His hair was like a crown,
And all the flowers looked up at Him,
And all the stars looked down

Friday, December 12, 2014

7 Quick Takes (Vol. 44)

It seems like the Catholic-blogging topic du jour is Santa.  Everyone's sharing whether they "do Santa" or not and explaining why.  Check out some of these posts at: Catholic All YearOne Catholic Mama, and Carrots for Michaelmas.

Our Santa policy will surely get more defined over the years, but for now we're still taking the "neither confirm nor deny" approach (in the words of Haley) that we settled on last year.  We still have a few books about Santa (I weeded out any that weren't otherwise a good story with attractive art work), but 90% of our Christmas book collection is based on the birth of Christ.  I'm confident that Sly understands the "real meaning of Christmas" from the conversations we've been having about it during Advent, and the Adventen [that should be a word.  Like Lenten, but Adventen.  Make sense?] practices we use: Advent wreath, hymn-singing, Nativity sets, Jesse Tree, etc..

At four years old, Sly is definitely getting more interested in the Santa idea this year.  I can tell he's wrestling with whether the tale is true or not.  And I'm okay with that.  If a direct question comes up, I'll probably handle it similarly to my approach to some of our other stories.  When I read the kids a story about a Saint or a version of the Nativity that's faithful to the real story, I often tell them, "This is a TRUE story."  But if we we read a made-up story about some lamb or donkey or camel that was present at the birth of Christ, I don't say "this is a true story."  Sometimes, Sly asks afterwards.  And I tell him, "well, parts are true - such as this and this.  And Mary might have said something like this.  But we don't really know what the lamb was named, or if it happened just this way....What do you think?"

My mom gave Stella a new outfit - a tunic top with leggings.  And I realized that I just don't understand modern fashions.  I was dressing her, and put her in the leggings....with high socks and tennis shoes.  It looked pretty silly.  I think the right "look" is to wear leggings barefoot with ballet flats?  See, I don't even know.  But it's wintertime in Pittsburgh!  It's cold!  So I guess she'll just look silly in her socks.

But remember when leggings used to be called "stretch pants"?  (Or, as we called them when I rowed on the crew team in high school, "spandex pants").  Remember when yoga pants were called "sweat pants"?  I feel like if we called things by their non-trendy names, maybe they wouldn't seem so acceptable as everyday wear!

[Flip-flops also used to be called thongs, which just sounds especially bad these days, but I'm conveniently not mentioning this example because I have been known to wear flip-flops from time to time...]

As much as I am behind on a lot of technology, it's dismaying sometimes to see just how dependent I've become on some things.  The other day I was going to a cookie exchange for my mom's group.  I have been to the hostess's house many times, and yet I'd always just used the GPS to find my way.  When I got in the car, the GPS cord was broken, and the thing would not turn on.  After struggling with it in the car for a while, I dashed into the house so I could print out some directions from Google (which now seems sooooo old-fashioned), but the website with her address wasn't opening.  Gah!  I literally didn't know where she lived or how to get there without my technology!  So I had to get really old-fashioned, and call her on the phone and ask her how to get there.

And then later that night, I had a dream which was scrolling through Facebook.  And my imagination was coming up with realistic-sounding statuses that real-life friends might post, and I was having internal dialogue about them ("oh, that's interesting").  Wow.  Maybe I need to go on a technology fast...

We had some family photos taken last month.  Basically, every year that we have a new baby in the family, we get a professional photo taken.  It provides a much-appreciated yet simple Christmas gift to give the grandparents.  And cheap, too, if you hunt down coupons for free sitting fees and free prints, which I always do.  I've never spent more than $20 on our professional photos.

JCPenny also threw in a few free photo Christmas cards from our shots.  I went against my personal stance against photo cards, and sent those ones to select out-of-town relatives who I knew would love them.

Sly and I are still making our way through his reading lessons.  Recently, the pace has slowed down a lot with us getting through only two lessons a week (as opposed to one lesson a day, which is the intention).  For a while now, I've suspected that Sly could be finishing each lesson pretty easily, if he could just focus.  Reading lessons had become a little martydom for me, a momentous struggle not to yell at him for all his wiggling, messing around, intentional mis-pronounciations, etc.

But I finally found something that's helped him to concentrate on the lessons, and I think it's hilarious how well it's working.  Before we start our lesson, I give him a cookie.  I let him take one bite.  And then I tell him he can finish it only when the lesson is over.  The cookie sits there on the table the whole time.  He has that little taste still in his mouth, and he just can't wait to finish it.  Sly has been moving through the lessons so beautifully since I've started this!  He does know all the sounds and words, he just needed some incentive to concentrate :-)

Nope.  Not above bribing my kid with food.

Over Thanksgiving, Tom's mom treated the two of us to a date night at their local BYOB paint-your-own-picture place (her offer included chauffeuring us there and back, providing us with wine and snacks to take with us, and watching all three kids for the night!!).   It was a "couple painting" night where two people each make half a scene and you put the canvases together to make a full painting.

we're in the leftish foreground

An art instructor taught us how to paint, so no experience was necessary.  It was pretty fun, and I was pretty impressed that I managed to paint something half-decent...even though it is a cheesy snowman.

Tom refused to kiss me under the mistletoe, because he was embarrassed enough by the dorky snowman painting

wed joked that the male snowman is reaching out longingly for the woman, and she's saying, "um, we can just shake hands."

Quick Takes is hosted at This Ain't the Lyceum