Thursday, December 24, 2009

The world crowds in

As the Advent season draws to a close tonight, I'm left with the somewhat melancholy reflection that it hasn't been my most spiritually productive Advent. Sure, the Jesse tree readings and other prayers and reflections were accomplished--but I can't shake the realization that these things became, instead of a gentle way to ground myself in the true meaning of Christmas, merely more items on a seemingly endless to-do list, which began even before Thanksgiving and will not end until Christmas dinner is in the oven tomorrow afternoon.

I can only blame myself for this--but how often it seems, especially at Christmas, that the very solemnity and holiness of the season are gradually dimmed by the sense that there is So Much to Do, by the cultural obligations of gifts and parties that extend even to one's or one's husband's work relationships, by the increasing demands on our time that often leave us, by Christmas Eve, metaphorically gasping for breath as we head out the door to Mass. The world crowds in, and obscures the Word.

But it has been this way since He first came among us. Mary and Joseph did not travel to Bethlehem to be near relatives or seek an excellent doctor, but to satisfy the demands of politics--a census, taken to measure the size of a finite kingdom, that because of this moment of grace became caught up in the story of an infinite one. They did not remain in Bethlehem, either, not because of a natural desire to return home, but because of a command to flee to Egypt to save the Child from the hands of those who sought, already, to destroy Him. The darkness of the world cannot comprehend the Light, and will always try to act as an extinguisher; the world crowds in, because the world cannot bear that He should be known, and worshiped, and glorified.

And the world still turns away, immersing itself in the age-old questions like "What price are a man's principles?" and "How can we use religion to our best advantages?" instead of turning to look, firmly and clearly, at the silent Word of God in the manger, born to die to rise to save us from our sins. The world crowds in upon itself, in a tired loop of cynicism and anger and doubt.

But He is there. The world may crowd in--but it cannot crowd Him out. He is there, Emmanuel, God With Us, present among us, so close we can taste Him, literally. He is there, rebuking gently our failures, the tendency we have to let the world crowd in and get in the way. He is there, reminding us of the world without end, the world we were born for, the world that is our inheritance--and it is not this world, and it does not crowd in, but transcends and transforms our hearts and words and deeds.

He is here. Emmanuel. And the darkness of the world will never know Him.

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