Spiritual Life

Christmas traditions can bring chaos or peace


It has long been my belief that the “Peace on Earth; good will to men” brought by Christmas is well worth the hectic month before. Hearing people wish each other a Merry Christmas and being kinder to each other, I thought, is worth the commercialization. But now I am seeing the bad effect of it all.

People in unnecessary debt, cramming too many events into a short period of time and stressed out – these are not the true nature of Christmas. These things change a beautiful and glorious celebration of the mystery of the Incarnation into something some people dread. It doesn’t have to be this way.

When I was 4 years old, my family went to Midnight Mass. We were living in Washington, D.C., and it was a very cold winter night. My mother and father packed us into our 1961 Pontiac and went to St. Bernadette’s.

The church was brightly lit and the pews wooden and hard. The Mass was in Latin, so I understood very little. Yet, there was a peace that enveloped me. About halfway through the Mass, I curled up on the pew and fell asleep. When we arrived home, my mother fixed hot chocolate with a marshmallow floating in the center. It was a very mystical and beautiful night.

What is interesting about my recollection is that I do not remember the toys or how my mother decorated. I do not remember the days before Christmas or my mother frantically shopping. I do not even remember the special meals my mother cooked or the Christmas cookies she made.

What I do remember is the peace of that Mass, the love of my family and the sweetness of that mug of hot chocolate. I remember the love of God enveloping me.

Advent should not be a period of stress or dread. It is a period of preparation for Christ’s Second Coming and a time of reflection. It should not be a time of debt or depression, when all the trappings of this world turn out to be shallow, unresolved promises. It is a holy time of remembering the greatest miracle, the Incarnation, when God became Man – Emanuel – God among us!

We should celebrate, not because Madison Avenue wants us to, but because we are excited, jubilant and expectant. We celebrate because God condescended to become a helpless little infant, so humble that His poor mother gave birth to Him in a stable.

Let us promise not to give in to the holiday hype. Let us reduce our obligations by half and use our newfound time to read the Bible, to visit with friends and families and to pray. I promise you, the peace that enveloped me when I was in that church so many decades ago will envelop you. And then you will recapture the miracle that is Christmas.

May God’s peace be with you and bless you during this holy time of Advent and Christmas.

The Very Rev. Canon Michael Penfield is pastor at St. Luke’s Chapel in the Hills. For more information, visit www.stlukeschapel.org.

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