The Blessing of the Holy Day: Encouragement from Dr. Phillip Cary

     Is there any time more stressful than Christmas? Like Thanksgiving, it is a time when families come together, gathered from far and wide to re-establish contact, to be nervous around unfamiliar relatives and often to get into covert or open fights. But at Christmas there is the added stress of high-stakes shopping: guilt about whether you’ve spent enough on this relative or that, whether you’ve chosen the right gifts for the right people, whether your mistakes will be noticed and resented. For a great many people it is a time of conflict, guilt and suicidal levels of stress, all wrapped up in tinsel with a bow.

     Wouldn’t it be nice to take a holiday from Christmas? A moratorium on shopping in the days between Thanksgiving and Christmas would be a great relief. Just imagine for a moment how much more joyous our holidays would be. But instead, we get one day in which, if we make the effort, we can go to church and pay attention to something better than shopping and family stress.

     The ancient church calendar, however, invites us to stretch it into 12 days.  This is the length of the holy Christmas season from December 25 to January 5, which is the 12th night, the eve of the feast of Epiphany on January 6. What we now call “the Christmas season” is actually Advent, a season of repentance, fasting and prayer. If you’re anxious about our nation’s politics, now is a great time to try the traditional practice of fasting on Fridays, so that your empty body may join your needy soul in crying for mercy. But then come 12 days of celebration.

     The invitation is always there.  No matter how hard we try—or how hard we are pushed by the commercialization of the holidays—we cannot take the Christ out of Christmas.  He did not wait for our celebrations or our religious correctness before he came down from heaven to lie in a manger, where every year he waits for us. The blessing of the holy day is that he is simply there, whether we have time for him or not. He came, after all, into a world that tried to snuff him out before he could live a day or a month, a world cruel and inhospitable, especially to the child of refugees, which he became.

     But none of our wickedness and failure and confusion succeeded in preventing his coming. So we do have something to celebrate every Christmas, a standing invitation to spend a few hours at least, and 12 days at most, remembering with the angels to sing glory in the highest, because there is something to celebrate as God’s peace comes resolutely, despite all appearances, to bless the earth.

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