The Christmas vs. Holiday tree controversy is threadbare and tedious, even in Rhode Island. Going into the last week of Advent, it is advisable to avoid other combustible topics unrelated to the season: brevity and simplicity this week.
Christmas celebrates the birth of Christ: the rest is accoutrement. This is a particularly difficult focus to maintain in 2011. George Will once wrote in an honest, low moment, “Christmas will soon be at our throats.” Regardless of Black Friday, marketing that begins in October, tinsel, flash, dreadful derivative music and parties, our little family prefers to keep the gift giving thoughtful, but minimal, sing perennially moving traditional carols, hold candlelight processions led by the little ones to the crèche my father-in-law built and my mother populated with exquisite hand painted ceramic figures of the Baby Jesus, Joseph, Mary, sheep and shepherds, camels and kings. Simplicity in this thorny time of year is our hope; attaining simplicity is an annual struggle.
Two Advent readings resonate this year and convey two most valuable Christmas lessons. The saints speak most eloquently.
The first reminds us to seek out peace, even and especially when chaos and FOMO (Fear Of Missing Out) threaten to overwhelm. From Thomas à Kempis’s classic, “Imitation-of-Christ“: “A man who lives at peace suspects no one. But a man who is tense and agitated by evil is troubled with all kinds of suspicions; he is never at peace with himself, nor does he permit others to be at peace… Above all things, keep peace within yourself, then you will be able to create peace among others. It is better to be peaceful than learned.”
The second Christmas message is that every human being we encounter has intrinsic worth as their birthright and must be treated with dignity and respect irrespective of the accidents of nativity, appearance, intelligence, equanimity or station. The eternal human soul is existentially dearer than church or planet or universe or any ephemeral thing. From a sermon by Blessed Isaac of Stella, a 12th century abbot: “Christ dwelt for nine months in the tabernacle of Mary’s womb. He dwells until the end of the ages in the tabernacle of the Church’s faith. He will dwell forever in the knowledge and love of each faithful soul.”
So to each of you precious souls reading these words and to those you love: Merry Christmas, a peaceful, simple Christmas season and a blessed 2012.
A lovely thing about Christmas is that it’s compulsory, like a thunderstorm, and we all go through it together. Garrison Keillor