My brother Simon Peter Emmanuel Summers was born on Christmas Day. We will have a family birthday party for him and one of our cousins in which we will also wrap another Christmas Party for the family. The Posada will be the central ritual at this party. I have to rush through this blog to get to that next event.
Last year at Christmas oddly enough I took a break from blogging from the middle of Advent until nearly the end of the twelve days. This year I hope to do a little better. Not for the last time in this blog: Merry Christmas!
I have already blogged that the play which was both public and well-organized on the one hand and a family affair on the other hand and which is a Christmas tradition was a success.
I blogged that I would be going to the play. It was a Christmas related post.
I blogged about other Christmas season events.
Even before this I had some posts about all the holidays of the season which I will not link here.
Here is a post I wrote for my Facebook account Profile on December 22,2008. I may get out an original post today or tomorrow. But if I do not then this is fairly valid:
Merry Christmas and Happy New Year to everyone who reads this note. This is a season when we try to turn our attention to the best things in life and about life at many levels. The celebration of Christ’s birth is a powerful foundation on which a complicated cultural structure has been built and is being built still. I am blessed to be in a house with a Christmas tree, a nativity set and two turkeys in the refrigerator. I have a pile of gifts for my family that needs to wrapped and though they are not as nice as I wish they were I am pleased and proud to have them there. I got out fewer cards than I would have liked but more than many years. I have sent gifts out early enough to friends overseas that they could get them by Christmas Day or else have already gotten them. Other than a back plaster, some allergy pills and being out of shape I have few signs of ill-health. There have been quite a few years in my life when almost none of these good things and certainly not all of them would have been true. For my own Christmas present my parents paid for my three nights at the Sheraton in New Orleans, my attendance at the Southern Historical Association and a new suit for my sister’s wedding. That puts this Christmas in the well above average financial value section of my life’s course. In addition, I will still have a stocking and something to unwrap under the tree. I will have the presence of most of my family on the BIG DAY and of almost all of them during the twelve days. So it is true to say that I am aware of all these things and grateful for them and that makes this a good Christmas. On the other hand as for many other people it will be a difficult Christmas.
This is a tough Christmas for me but Christmas is still very special. It is a holiday to which I have always devoted as much time, energy and resources as I could. It is a time to recognize the birth of Jesus Christ. At Christmastime many of us can hardly help reflecting on all the things we might have hoped for at Christmas and did not get or hoped to be and did not become. People are aware of failed marriages and estranged friends and they are not always able to put things back together again or even sincerely regret the choices that ended those relationships but they still feel the end of those things and the absence of their good fruits during the holiday season. This Christmas is both better and worse than usual in that specific regard. At Christmas we have a whole bunch of images and memories and dreams that build up and are associated with that day and season. For me there is the fact that I was married on December 19 to a woman born on December 31. This season my sister will marry a man born on December 18 and they will be joined on January 2, 2009. It will be both easier and better in many ways and harder and worse in many other ways for those old dates paired in the now distant past to be overshadowed and reversed in sequence in the present and future.
We may not always know exactly how we wish things were or even feel strong enough to articulate how we think things are wrong but many of us see the lacks and voids in our lives at Christmas. W see faces that we hoped would be around in our minds’ eyes. We think of traditions that have gotten lost and we maybe even regret the loss of a spiritual purity we felt in some half remembered mass or other worship service. We wish our choices and talents had enabled us to provide more for those small people who we would most like to see overwhelmed with delight. We may even remember the way previous Christmases were affected by wars or natural disasters in big and small ways we cannot change.
Yesterday, on the last Sunday of Advent, as I attended Saint James Chapel at Esther, Louisiana I found out that my overweight 44-year-old self with arthritis could not handle standing very well after I had stood all through mass. I stood through the mass because I had trouble finding my ankle braces and left without bringing a chair. There were no pews because Hurricane Ike had destroyed them with a flood just as Hurricane Rita had destroyed their longstanding predecessors not so long ago which left us without pews for Christmas that year as well. I have many memories of standing at relative attention for many hours at a time. But those memories are lies when translated to the body of a much heavier man who works out less and has fewer resources for recovery. Sometimes familiar holiday pain is harsher and sharper in a given year that we had expected or than our memories had prepared us for.
There have been years when I was able to buy a bicycle, or jewelry or something else that might be extraordinary for the recipient. There have also been years when there was little more than baked goods from our home kitchen that my ex-wife and I could put on our list. This is a year when the gifts are between those two posts on the lower end. But many of us still long to be able to do more and have a bit more flair. I have never bought the trendiest gifts but like the scarf I bought Anika for her birthday I have tried to buy classic gifts that would last and bring joy. However, I did not just come back from nearly a year of shopping in China this year.
In the movie When Harry Met Sally there is the theme wanting be with someone to kiss at midnight on New Year’s Eve. Most of us don’t want to stand alone beneath the mistletoe either. While I have not mentioned her directly in these notes before I remember watching When Harry Met Sally on DVD in my apartment with my Chinese girlfriend (who spoke very good English) and the thing she could not help saying was “How many couples are there in this movie?” , what she meant was how many times did the principal characters end up with somebody else before they ended up together. For some of us the holidays are about such a sensation being repeated again. There is certainly little sexual naiveté in modern neo-Communist China. What impressed her was the idea of a fiction or fantasy with so many false starts. Those of us who are getting older alone notice the rough edges getting sharper. This year I ran across a couple of nice women in the USA and the thing that I most note about the encounters was how little chance I felt existed of us sharing eggnog this holiday.The layers of disappointment build and one feels that Christmas is a reminder of all we don’t have right.
But, whether it was at the Christmas Concert I attended, or in Church or in a child’s hug we celebrate the birth of human baby boy who is somehow God-With-Us. This Emmanuel who is Jesus Christ ends up in a stable partly because his Royal Birth brings him to a decaying and overcrowded town where his royal ancestor David had his clan seat. There wise men, whom tradition knows as kings, would bring him gifts and they would have to be used to run into Egypt and live probably in the largest Jewish Community outside of ancient Israel, Alexandria. There he would learn the Greek which with Hebrew and Aramaic would be vital to his ministry later in life. He would thus escape the last great established King of Israel who was known to kill anyone who might be a threat of any kind. Wise in the world, cruel, treacherous, a master builder seeking redemption in building a great temple where Jesus would later preach this man’s name was Herod the Great. Herod was near the end of his rope and life as this boy was born. A child with ties to the freest Jews , those of Galilee, the powerful priestly clans of Jerusalem and the most honorable of all royal houses — that of David — this child was a threat before Royal Eastern mystics came asking for him. It was with Herod’s collapsing dynasty divided into four small realms by the Romans that the adult Jesus would have to contend. We remember that Holy Family on the run. We look at all the good days they hoped for and we make what we can of angels singing to shepherds. Somehow, if we try we, find that God is with us too and we also can find peace and goodwill. We can put aside our sorrows and sing “Glory to God in the Highest” as we remember that First Noel. Then we can go out and try to bring a little Christmas to the world and into the rest of our year. I do not think that Christmas ought to be too theological. A little Santa Claus and a little of Holy Bishop Nicholas, a little tree and a little nativity scene can all make a more complete Christmas. The odd blend of the Charles Dickens Christmas Carol has its place. But Jesus certainly is the reason for the season.
Was Jesus born around Chanukah? I can assure anyone that there are no certain reasons to say he was not. It is true Christmas gradually emerged as a decent party to replace Roman Pagan feasts near this date. But that is much less than proof that there was no tradition linking his birth to Chanukah. In fact there are passages in the New Testament that could (or could not) suggest that he was in fact early on marked with the Maccabean legacy perhaps by the time of his birth as well as other factors. There is great evidence and abudant that Jesus tried to wield that part of his people’s heritage in with all the parts he inherited. Even big themes we never look at in those terms could be part of that reality. “Whatever came to be in him found life, life for the light of men. The light shines on in the darkness — a darkness that did not overcome it… the real light which gives light toevery man was coming into the world”. John 1:4-5, 9 (New American Bible). This theme of light is repeated many times by Jesus and his followers and was probably overdetermined. That is also why the Patriarch and Metropolitan Ordinary Bishop of Rome and Proto-Primate of the West whom we mostly call the Pope felt pastorally that as culture was becoming Christian then Christmas should replace the Feast of the Invincible Sun , Sol Invictus. If one chooses to see then Jesus’s birth in Bethlehem is constantly referenced. It is the City of David and Son of David is how he is most often addressed. Bethelehm is also the House of Bread in Hebrew and Bread is a constant motif of Jesus’s teaching and ministry. It might well have been seen as his part of his favored birth. Regardless, this is Christmas for us and we ought to say at least once this season “Happy Birthday Jesus!” Even if we only say it in our hearts.
End of Facebook Note….
This year my arthritis is better (today and lately anyway) than in 2008. Social, financial, familial and other matters of the heart have continued their downward trajectory for me overall. But I am still trying to stay in the game. And wish a Merry Christmas to all those of goodwill who read this post.