MISSION MATTERS: ‘Tis the Season to be Jolly?
By Fr. Paul Stark, S.J.
Vice President for Mission and Ministry
Christmas lights, carols, cards and commercials continually remind us that in this season, we are called to be merry and full of joy. Many of us have a hard time with that, feeling this may be an impossible task or something we will certainly have to get to, well, later.
The end-of-a-semester pressures with last-minute assignments or expectations--originally given in August, when December seemed so very far away--now loom over us, whether we're students, faculty or staff. The weight of final exams, which will need to be created, taken and corrected, leave many of us with a foreboding that dims the brightest lights with thoughts of cramming and the work ahead and darn few visions of sugarplums dancing in our heads. We also have to find and juggle the budget for just the right gift for just the right person, all combining to make each of us wonder when and where the Grinch stole Christmas.
If we're honest with ourselves and others, we may sometimes think that Christmas is at the wrong time of year. It would be so much easier to be jolly if only we didn't have all the pressures of the time. It would be more stress-free if we could spread our demands out a bit more. Joy and peace seem so hard to find in this hectic season of joy and peace. Woulds, coulds and shoulds though, remove us from reality...and, regardless of the time and year, we would probably find it as difficult to be jolly...and reality is a much better place to be.
Maybe these feelings, though, are appropriate feelings for us at Christmas. More than 2,000 years ago, on that first Christmas, the Jewish people were in their own hectic time, their particularly hectic history. They lived in an occupied land and were ordered to travel to their town of origin, pushing them out of their ordinary lives and predictable time. They were not at peace and joy nor was it easy for them to find peace and joy.
It is to this land and to this people, and to that unsettled and unsettling time, though, that God became one of these harassed people, one of us. Jesus joined His people, not in an easygoing, peaceful or comfortable time free from expectations and stress, but into a people and a time filled with many pressures--with few comforts and little support--a time filled with considerable tension and turmoil.
In that coming, though, in that time, in that place, to those people, God shows us that He loves each of us in our ordinary lives, when things are going well and when things are not...when life is tense and filled with grave burdens.
In scripture, Matthew reminds us that this time is when the people living in darkness have seen a great light. We may feel that we are in a dark season brought on by the loads of lives, of expectations not our own, but it is in this time, specifically and particularly, that God invites us to feel our need for Jesus, to sense and to understand our own longing for the real meaning of Christmas, to enter into the season, and the mystery and the wonder.
Pressures, stress, too much to do and too little time to do it, and too many pulls on us notwithstanding, we are invited to join Joseph, Mary and all the Jewish people of their time, to live in the hope and knowledge that God will come. Darkness will be filled with Light.
Come to the Light...