At the close of the Christmas season, I am struck by the difficulty of sitting in the delight of Christmas for 12 days. Recognizing that those aware of the 12 days of Christmas use this knowledge to complain that the Christmas trees are taken down too soon instead of as an opportunity to talk about the relevance of a Savior born, I decided to try to stay in the Christmas cheer through the whole of Christmas. I thought working in a Catholic institution, I would already be primed to relish in the fullness of the season.
The Advent and Christmas seasons are what many look forward to all year. In my family, we lit the Advent candles each evening with our preschool son, noticing that even our 6-month-old daughter perked up and sat mesmerized by the candlelight. We honored the feast of St. Nicholas and enjoyed decorating our home as we got ready for Christmas. Each of these traditions were relatively easy to connect to our greater surroundings because holiday cheer was all around us.
Yet by the fourth day of Christmas, I saw information about where to dispose of my Christmas tree properly and New Year's solutions coupled with conversations of how we ate too much for the holidays as if they were already over. Now, I am not someone who needs society to walk with me in how I celebrate religious seasons with my family; however, with this experience, I noticed that the value in honoring the Christmas season rather than a day points to something much more significant.
Preparation is the focus in so many momentous aspects of our lives and culture. Working in higher education, I think about the complexity of the last year. Seniors talk about frustration in being constantly asked, "What's next?" when most will not know the answer to this question until months after walking across the stage. This can lead to a sense of failure rather than being able to focus on all they have learned and savor the accomplishment of being the first in their family to graduate or the immersion experience that opened their eyes as a global citizen.
I try to encourage students in their final semester to savor the accomplishments of their time studying rather than only focusing on the possible career after they receive the diploma. This is not to encourage students to avoid responsibility -- by honoring the present achievement, one might enter into the responsibility with clarity and confidence. Truly living as contemplatives in action allows for time to savor the joys and graces both experienced daily and in our monumental moments.
We focus on the preparing in our culture, but the significant change happens in the having. College is an important, informative time, but as I work with first-year students, I often say we are called here ultimately to be sent forth. This time is for preparation -- sure, for a career, but also to define and discern who we will be ethically, philosophically and actively in the world.
Why does it matter if we only appreciate Advent and not sit in reverence of Christmas? The transformational experience is in the ordinary, everyday experience of the having. Without honoring the achievement of earning a degree, we may dismiss the value of graduating. Christmas is a time that offers a moment to be in awe that we have a savior who delights in us and came just as dependently into the world as we do. To sit and relish for 12 days Jesus Christ can be a transformative experience with a God dwelling with us, an infant vulnerable, gentle and graced.
What does it mean to have God with us? I find hope in a world with racial injustice because of a savior dwelling with me. I find hope because I know I can be the change that is needed through this indwelling, which is also possible in all who are around me. This inspires me to act and holds me tenderly when I only find faith to be what is holy in the darkness around me.
About a month or so ago, my 6-month-old baby found her feet. As she cooed with delight, I imagined her explaining to me this glorious exploration -- the newness of her finding and sucking on her big toe, the grabbing and letting them go again. Delight and pure joy radiated the room, and I was overwhelmed with the love of Christ dwelling in each of us, in our relationship and in her achievement. She sat in awe of her surrounding, of her body and of her mother, discovering new accomplishments each day.
In a time when my work is stressful and I am still trying to balance my desires for success in my career and time at home, I am grateful to savor this with her. May we seize moments in the new year, meditating on the goodness in our lives in gratitude and in hope.
[April Gutierrez is a graduate of Boston College's School of Theology and Ministry and is a campus minister for First-Year Experience at Loyola University Chicago.]
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