The Rev. Rosa Lindahl
November 9, 2023
Dearest Holy Comforter Family,
What will this holiday season be like? I have an account on Instagram; occasionally, I check in on a couple of young moms whom I’ve gotten to know there. This year, like last, their preparations are fascinating. Halloween was hardly over before they began putting out all their Christmas decorations. One of them already had three Christmas trees. This year she’s bought 4 more—one for each room in her house. There’s a nativity set up in one corner of a room, but it isn’t very large, and it certainly isn’t as fancy as many others of her ornaments and decorations. I have always been very critical of the “consumer” version of Christmas, appalled that by late August so many retailers are already setting up Christmas displays in their stores. Watching this young woman almost frantically hurry through getting her house decked out for Christmas, I have found myself asking, “But what really is going on here; this is more than stirred-up consumerism!”
Trying to put myself in her shoes, here are some possible explanations—and I hasten to add, these are just theories based on my own experience as a person, mom, and priest. We are living in extraordinarily ugly, complicated times when much that grounded us and gave us meaning doesn’t seem to be enough. How do we get through days when war rages all around us. Too often, we all seem to feel like we are locked in mortal combat with people we once called neighbors.
This morning, as I waited to turn from the Bypass onto Woodley, the smell of smoke was overwhelming. I heard in the news last night that there was an out-of-control fire burning in the county, just off 231. This morning, it was still burning. That’s a consequence of the drought that’s followed a summer of hellishly hot weather. Scientists keep telling us this is what climate change looks
like and it’s only going to get worse. The young mom who is so into Christmas has two sets of twins and a surprise 5th child. How does someone who pays any attention not get overwhelmed considering what the future might hold for those precious children?
In a time of jaded cynicism, Christmas gives us permission to be filled with wonder. Think about your earliest memory of the first night the Christmas tree was lit in your home. Or what it was like walking downtown in Montgomery, seeing the window displays of stores like Kress? It surely fills a mother’s heart with joy to see her little one's eyes open wide, jaws drop, to hear the whoosh as they catch their breath at the magic of it all. I’ve always said one of the bits of being the parent of a special needs person like my daughter is that Christmas never stops losing its magic for her—and therefore, for me too. In the years when Maria was still able to visit us here in Alabama, I would turn her room into a winter wonderland the week before she arrived. I could hardly wait for her to arrive. As for the Instagram moms: as their children grow up, life will be hard enough. Surely that too is the impetus to get Christmas going on November 1st.
And of course, so much of all those decorations, trees, lights, smells, and sounds of Christmas are beautiful, or cute, or lovely, or funny, or just plain a relief and distraction. I get all that. I’d probably be tempted to do the same if I had little ones at home (and BTW—I’m thinking about a little Christmas tree for the chicken coop this year!)
In the liturgical year of the Episcopal Church, these last few weeks of Gospel readings confront us more and more painfully with that other truth about ourselves and the world—this Sunday, the Gospel reading comes from the chapter just before the chapter about the crucifixion. In it, Jesus is as tough and confrontational with his friends as he’d been with the local religious authorities. Sometimes the dissonance between what starts to gear up around us for the holidays, and what the Church asks us to consider gets painful. We struggle to find some kind of balance between what feels like the two extremes of the human condition. As you gear up for the holidays, I hope you will be willing to live with some discomfort—knowing we are privileged enough to celebrate Christmas by surrounding ourselves with things that bring beauty and joy, while at the same time, remembering that the love that brought the Christ-child into the world is a love that doesn’t look away from what is broken, weary and empty in the world, and seeks to fill those gaping holes with healing grace. It is a love that invites us to be a part of that grace.
How are you getting ready already, for Christmas? Rosa+