Whether or not we sang the carols, we heard them often enough. For weeks and weeks. Many of us decorated our homes, turned on the lights, put up trees in our living rooms, bought and gave presents. And received them. Perhaps ate more than we should have. And then by evening on December 25 (except for Boxing Day, when we bought more stuff for ourselves, or returned gifts we didn’t especially like), it seemed like it was all over. A good number of those Christmas trees were already part of Friday’s garbage. And if we follow the calendars of commercialism and radio and TV – which most of us do – the Christmas season is over.
But according to the Christian Church calendar, it’s not. (And after all, the church should have at least something to say about it, since they did invent it.) For Christians – though many of us have forgotten it, if we ever even knew it – the season of Christmas is twelve days long. And it doesn’t start in November. The Twelve Days of Christmas span December 24 (Christmas Eve, the arrival of Jesus) to January 6 (Epiphany, the arrival of the Wise Men). You know, those three guys from the East, who follow a star-sign and show up at a smelly manger in to them a foreign country, bearing gifts worthy of divinity, and thereby converging East and West into one celebration of holiness coming to the entire world. (And thereby rescuing the Christ-mass from the exclusive possession of Christians and extending it to all of humanity.)
Twelve days, ending on January 6. So we still have several days to go. So now what? Should we bring the tree back inside, or turn our decoration lights back on again? Well, you could if you wanted to. It might actually help make the point. Or ponder this, which is really more to the point:
What does Christmas mean? Christmas is the Christ-Mass. “Christ” designates “the one anointed by God”. Anointed by holy spirit (or the spirit of wholeness). Divinity coming to humanity in human form. God incarnate. Specifically in Jesus, Christians say. But even they say he comes for all. (“Let everyone prepare him room”, they sing.) “Mass” means “sacrifice”, or “gift”, or “offering”, or even “work”. Divinity’s offering or gift to humanity. Or the gift that keeps on giving. Or God at work in human form. While special to the Christian faith, it therefore also has broader implications. It is a spiritual concept – dare we say truth – universal in its meaning and application.
Further, the wise men and women of the world – the “saints” among us spanning all generations and from whatever religion or none, the great recognized luminaries of history as well as the ones who shine or have shined more quietly, perhaps just within our own families – have sensed and proclaimed that this spirit – this “holy” spirit, this life-giving energy – is not just a transcendent universal force. They claim to have experienced It in their own lives, to have “known” It. They bear witness to It as not just the source of life but a powerful presence of unlimited and continuingly creative love, intimately present to us – or to those of us wise enough to open our awareness to it and to be possessed by it.
It is a concept – dare we say truth – that enobles us. Even the least of us. Even me. Even you. Even that person you really don’t like very much. Even the one you may hate. Even the one you may hate for a reason, and not just out of irrational prejudice. (But even them too.) The wise ones understand, they sense, they “know”, that this holy spirit intends to incarnate Itself in everyone. Divinity within the very uterus of humanity, waiting to be born. To take on flesh and hands and feet, to show forth love. To radiate love all over the place. Not just a love of superficial sentimentality or even passionate sensuality. Rather love manifest in fullness – in unconditional positive regard for all persons, spoken in words and shown in acts of forgiveness and kindness and compassion. Socially, it takes the form of justice-making. Measurable and tangible attitudes and behaviours flowing freely from you and from me to her and to him and to them, making us into we. Making us one. One-in-spirit. Just imagine! Really. Go ahead, and even just for a moment, close your eyes and go quiet inside and take a re-freshing breath, and imagine. What a different world it would be! World, or community, or neighborhood, or family. What a different life! What a different you. What a different me.
Is it just too much to imagine that imagining something can break it into reality? Some say it can. Some say that everything that comes into being is first of all imagined. But maybe it is too much. Maybe we need to break it down into smaller pieces. Maybe we’re supposed to. Maybe you can just start with you, and I can just start with me. Maybe you can imagine just yourself showing forth love – real tangible love taking
form in attitudes and acts of forgiveness and kindness and compassion, even to someone you don’t especially like a lot, or someone you’ve taken for granted, or have tended to treat badly. And just for twelve days. Or even easier, just until January 6. Just to Epiphany. Imagine that. As Elisa Doolittle sang, “Wouldn’t it be loverly!”
Epiphany, by the way, is yet another season in the Christian church calendar. And “Epiphany” (pronounced e-pif-any, with second syllable emphasis) means “bright light”, or “enlightenment” (like that legendary bright star that marked the path of the wise men). So maybe we can stretch our imaginations even further. Maybe all the way through the Epiphany season, which takes us to the forty days preceding Easter. Or maybe extend the twelve days to twelve months. A whole year of kindness and compassion and Christmas spirit. It sounds exhausting. But it would be a life-enriching, exhilarating exhaustion, wouldn’t it? Just imagine! As the “saint” John Lennon sang to us: “Imagine”! And dream with him that one day, imagination becomes reality. That would be peace on Earth. And that would be a really very Merry Christmas.
Ron Shonk is the RCMP Victim Services Coordinator in Keremeos