It’s time to enter the deep end.
You know what I mean. The Christmas season. The most full-immersion experience this country offers, unless you count the marketing for the new Star Wars movie. The wrapping paper and decorations hit the shelves weeks ago. The lights have begun to re-appear, with the music and the online ads not far behind. Soon it’ll even be time for that most communal of American holiday experiences – exchanging profanity and insurance information in a crowded strip mall parking lot.
You gotta admit, it’s a heck of a way to celebrate peace on Earth, good will to men. Or are we?
Pope Francis recently raised that question. Well, actually, he did a bit more than that. In a recent homily, he drew some press attention by calling all the pageantry nothing more than a pretty wrapping over a world at war.
“Christmas is approaching: there will be lights, parties, lighted Christmas trees and manger scenes… it’s all a sham,” he said. “The world continues to go to war. The world has not chosen a peaceful path.”
It’s true that we’re a lot better at singing about peace than pursuing it – one of the Christmas traditions that hasn’t changed over the centuries. It’s a rare Silent Night or Joy to the World that hasn’t echoed over a battlefield somewhere. Our own American history even celebrates Washington crossing the Delaware in time to surprise a Hessian army that had been enjoying the season. (No word on whether they had finished watching “It’s A Wonderful Life.”)
Even on a more personal level, I wonder. At the start of this year, around Martin Luther King Day, I wrote about how “peace” means more than an end to war or violence. At its roots, it means a restoration of balance, a revival of how things should be. A sense that all’s right with the world.
Put it like that, and it becomes even more maddeningly difficult to pursue. Especially at this time of year, when the words “chaos,” “hubbub,” and “stress” would be the adjectives chosen by most people – at least, out of the words that can be printed in a family newspaper.
And yet … I wonder.
It’s easy to forget that this time of year is also a time of centering. Under the bustle remains a call to remember the basics: family, friends, faith. To come together. To see faces long missed and think on memories long absent.
Granted, that can sometimes be painful, too. As the season gets closer, I start to hear Grandma Elsie singing carols with us in the car and telling stories with us in the early-early until Mom and Dad woke up. But maybe that’s a different way of being whole, uniting yesterday with now.
Or, for that matter, with tomorrow. Grandma always said Christmas was for children. The eagerness, the decorations, the sense of being part of something special while following a long-established pattern … given all that, I suppose it’s no wonder that our disabled ward Missy starts to celebrate Christmas in July.
Unite all that and it becomes a place where hope and memory can meet — a place where peace, however fragile, is renewed.
Small? Certainly. But of all the season’s lessons, one of the oldest is that wonderful transformations can begin with the smallest of things.
So here’s to a piece of peace for us all. Here’s to the future those pieces may someday create.
And that’s no sham.