I don't know about you, but I feel the need every year about this time to press the pause button on the Christmas machine, and retreat for a quiet moment from the annual “mistletoe madness” - to gather my thoughts from the four corners of the mall where they are wont to wander. This year I find myself contemplating Ezekiel’s “one heart and new spirit.”
So many of us hope for God to place within us a “heart of flesh” to replace our “heart[s] of stone.” And many try to accomplish this feat throughout the busy holiday season, as if we could grow new hearts as easily as the ever-popular “Chia Pets” grow horticultural hair. Of course, we discard them just as quickly, once the season is past, the tinsel is forgotten, and the decorations are packed away for another year.
We are bombarded from all sides by “to do” lists and “wish” lists, and “Christmas card” lists – shopping lists and grocery lists and Santa’s ubiquitous “naughty and nice” list. We are exhorted to give generously, spend lavishly, bake prodigiously, entertain bounteously, and pursue that elusive thing known to all women everywhere (with dread in their hearts) as the “perfect family gathering.” And somewhere along the way, we lose sight of the simplicity of the season, which is the true blessing of the holidays.
Many of us live in such spiritual poverty the rest of the year that we try to cram an entire year’s worth of spiritual sustenance into one short month. We hustle and bustle, fret and fume, simmer and stir, plan and prepare, wrap and wrangle, decorate and do, until we want to cry with the lady in the now defunct Calgon ad, “Take me away!” Please! Instead, I say we take a page from John Lennon’s songbook and just “let it be.”
We need – I need – to stop; to slow down to the deliberate pace of a worn out donkey, to see clearly how easily the darkness in our hearts can mirror the depth of a starry night outside a country backwater in Judea; to hear the distant cries of a needy populace mingling with the angels’ triumphant song; to feel the bottomless fatigue of the refugee, carried deep in the bones of a tired pregnant girl; to taste the sharp, acrid worry of an uneducated carpenter who doesn’t know where he will lay his head that night or whether the child carried by his wife is even his to raise; to smell the sweet straw and earthy animal droppings which undercut the heady scent of frankincense and myrrh.
We need to look beneath the weary world, alight with forced gaiety and empty gifts, to find the “one heart” of love and the “new spirit” of hope. This gift is not to be found in any catalogue or store. It cannot be created with pipe cleaners and cookie dough. It is worth more than the most lavish fur coat or diamond earrings, and it costs us nothing we can earn, but all we have to offer.
This gift is contained in the beating heart of God, made fragile flesh in a wee, wailing infant so many long years ago in Bethlehem. Though the gift was given over two thousand years ago, it remains as fresh, as unsullied, and as newborn as our souls’ bright promise.
This gift is ours to keep, ours to treasure, to ponder, to pass on to those we love most deeply. This gift is ours to receive and ours to give back. This gift is blessed benediction.
Then we will grow new hearts for God to write upon. Then we will follow, keep, and obey. Then we shall be God’s people. And God will lead us home. To the place we never left.
A dear friend of mine passed along one of his family's Christmas traditions to me some years ago. Every year, before opening their packages, his family would go around the room, one by one, and give each other what they called, "the gift of words," each telling in turn what he or she most appreciated about each family member during the course of the past year.
My family has carried on this tradition in our own family and it has become a cherished part of the holiday celebration, reminding us of the true blessings of family and the only gifts that really matter.
Don't write me off as a "Pollyanna." There was a year where the only positive thing I could think of to say about one person was how much I liked the smile that stretched from ear to ear. That was a tough year for our family. But even then, the glass was half full. And the tradition reminded me of that fact.
There have been many words this past year - more than most - as I moved further into a new calling as a writer and designer, and reaffirmed my old role as wife, mother, and knitter. To all of you who have read my words, pondered them in your hearts, laughed with me, enjoyed my (admittedly slightly skewed) vision of life in this 21st century, or shared my ideas and dreams of wooly bliss, I send my most profound thanks and my heartfelt wishes for a joyous holiday season, however you and your family choose to celebrate it.
Above all else, I wish you wholeness at all times , in all things.