“We swore this year we’d start off early, no need to rush around; The intention was to start in August when the prices still were down! But it was dentist-this and new bike-that and the money melts away; So I had to wait for Christmas bonus and did it all yesterday!
We must be fools, just look at that pile, you can hardly see the tree! We said this year we’d keep things simple, then did our usual spree. But it feels so good when the kids go nuts! It’s worth the toil and strain. These kids are only this young once and they’ll never be so again.”
There’s much more to the song – it’s a great example of Stan’s musical style.
You might be able to remember being one of those kids “going nuts” Christmas morning – or an exhausted parent, beaming with happy delirium. I’ve been in both places, and I can relate to Stan Rogers – to a certain extent. But I’ve also felt a little uncomfortable about contributing to the “Consumer Xmas Economy”.
Not long ago, we had a little Christmas celebration just for my wife’s siblings, her aunts & uncles, and their kids and grandkids – a standard Christmas dinner with some Newfoundland touches like peas pudding and maybe some salt beef. The Aunts had already stocked the tree with a glittering pile of presents – and the little ones just tore into them accompanied by much laughter from their elders. Only one of us had the nerve to name the elephant in the room.
We were all reflecting on what a good time we were having --- of COURSE we were having a good time – when my wife’s brother, who had 3 young children knee deep in the gift-receiving spree, complained that the whole business made him sick – all the fuss over what was really just “stuff”. What were they trying to teach the young ones anyway? Well! Hadn’t he just put his foot right in it! You could almost see the cloud descending on the party… and understandably so.
The time to raise such issues is back in November – or even August – not at a gathering of well-meaning Aunts and grandparents. Still, maybe he had a point. Is Christmas really “all about the kids” and their glee at once again proving the existence of Santa Claus? Isn’t Christmas supposed to be about a deeper kind of joy than that?
The prophetic book of Isaiah is bursting with beautiful poetry describing just such a joy…
“The desert shall rejoice and blossom…. Like the crocus, it shall blossom abundantly and rejoice with joy and singing…”
This is joy that cannot be bought – it flowers freely at the Spirit’s touch.
This is joy that surfaces in arid places --- and circumstances!
“The eyes of the blind shall be opened… the ears of the deaf unstopped…
Then the lame shall leap like deer…
and the tongue of the speechless sing for joy…”
The exiles from Judah were the “infirm” ones mentioned here – their ailments would be cured and their misery replaced with the joy of those who have been saved by God from the sorrow of exile.
Contemporary western society also lives in a sort of exile – removed from simple joys by the mad chase after material goods, success and fame. But we are not alone in our plight. Other lands in other times have undergone a similar exile.
In the 6th century BCE India was becoming more becoming more urban. Economics were plagued with greed and corruption. Aryan society was wracked by violent aggression. In response, many turned to Yoga.
The word Yoga is related to our English word Yoke, and was used to describe harnessing beasts of burden for purposes of warfare. But this new battle was an inner one – a “systematic assault on the ego” according to Religion scholar Karen Armstrong. The purpose of Yogic discipline was to counter the natural instincts for self-preservation by mastering every bodily function and drive. The result was a feeling of “indescribable joy”. (12 Steps to a Compassionate Life. Armstrong, 37)
Mary of Nazareth had good reason to feel joy. Her mysterious and frightening pregnancy had been confirmed, for her cousin Elizabeth was also with child. Elizabeth’s greeting to Mary was profound and challenging: “Blessed are you among women, and blessed is the fruit of your womb.” And what was the blessing that this swiftly arriving Child, this fruit of Mary’s womb, would bring?
Mary herself declared:
“He has scattered the proud in the thoughts of their hearts.
He has brought down the powerful from their thrones, and lifted up the lowly.
He has filled the hungry with good things and sent the rich away empty.”
In the reign of the coming Messiah, or King, pride of status, abuse of power and worship of riches would be overthrown. This was to be a kingdom of the humble, the weak and the poor. How could that be? How could such a kingdom succeed?
For Jesus, real wealth, real power and honour, are found within. As he was fond of saying, “The kingdom of God is within you”. Giving our own pursuit of endless needs a back seat frees us to consider – and serve – the needs of others.
This is not an easy move to make. As the practitioners of Yoga discovered, it’s a discipline. Christians too have practices that can help develop that sense of selflessness: fasting from luxuries, visiting the sick or imprisoned, giving to the poor and hungry. All of these ways of being Christian are of practical help to the world – and they help us to be transformed within, into new people who truly want to follow the self-effacing path of Jesus Christ…. “who, for the joy set before him, endured the cross…”.
SO let us revel in the joy that advent brings – even as we recognize that the gift-giving we partake of is really a discipline -- that is, a form of spiritual training. The more we give of ourselves, the more we mold ourselves – and our watching children -- into the shape of the Giver... who, really, is shaping us.
Jon Zuck is a writer interested in Christian mysticism, a way of practicing our faith that insists the presence of God can be experienced within. He writes an internet blog called “The Wild Things of God” and that‘s where I found this example of Jon’s poetry:
Eight Haiku for the Nativity
Igniter of Stars! Lies naked, bawling on rough straw God in the manger.
Scandal of Ages! The King of Infinity in this time, this place!
Pungent barnyard smells mix with the aroma of His wonder, His love.
"What?" "Why?" Resounding cry across the galaxies—wings and heads bow in awe.
Quiet night explodes! Angelsong, ten billion strong— Glory to the King!
In orbits ordained before Time, planets align— form the Star, the Sign!
She names Him "Jesus." Yet more strangers will arrive— they will name Him "King."
Joy! This Special birth! And more! Beyond all reason The Giver is given!