I looked up ‘Prepare for Christmas’ on Google and found ‘make a Christmas playlist; build a gingerbread house; decorate your house; watch a Christmas Special.’ You might think ‘what an un-spiritual, trivial approach to these holy days’. On the positive side, though, it might suggest a faint blurred memory of something once sacred, even to treat them just as holidays, even when the reason and the story behind the reason has long faded away.
What does preparing for a religious festival mean? To prepare for a recurring feast is to refresh and restore an understanding of life’s depth dimension. Anything we do regularly – even meditation – can easily become superficial and go to automatic pilot, robbing us of the sense of wonder and gratitude it is designed to awaken in us. All perception of sacred mystery requires heightened awareness and readiness. ‘You must be ready’, Jesus said, ‘because you do not know on what day your Lord will come.’
One way to do so this week is to take the times of meditation seriously. Even on the busy days approaching prepare for the periods of meditation as if they were indeed the most important times of the day. To prepare, we could read the account in Luke’s gospel (2: 1-20) remembering they are 400 of the most important words ever composed. They tell a story about telling a story, passing on and refreshing it in each telling sin order that we are never be so dull-witted as to think we understand them. The angel tells the news to the shepherds (social outcasts) who tell what they heard to the Mary and Joseph (who could not find a guestroom anywhere and would soon become refugees) and the three Kings (pilgrims in a strange land) who told what they learned from the stars about the new-born. We are still part of this endless passing on of what the shepherds said they had ‘heard and seen’.
Here are four short notes from this melody to memorise and recall during the days in the week ahead:
The time came for the child to be born (v.6)
The right time and place, the end of long waiting and preparation. Meeting our destiny even when circumstances don’t seem ideally suited.
She placed him in a manger (v.7)
Manger in French is ‘to eat’. He who is called the bread of life’ is laid down where nourishment is found.
They were terrified (v.9)
When the light of the angel shone on them, the shepherds became aware of the darkness they were in. We fear to exchange the comfort of ignorance for the shock of consciousness.
They hurried off (v.16)
But once the awakening has happened there is no time to waste and fear is replaced by decisive action.
St Leo the Great in the 5th century preached an extraordinary sermon on Christmas day. He said ‘sadness should have no place on the birthday of life. The fear of death has been swallowed up; life brings us joy with the promise of eternal happiness’. Are we getting ready for a life without our deepest fear?