My Christmas card this year is a picture I took of a statue of St. Joseph “looking” at a Christmas tree lit up on the grounds of Bon Secours retreat center in Maryland that I took last year on retreat.
As I wrote in my Christmas Letter to family & friends:
I’ve been spending time talking to Joseph these days. In our CSJP constitutions we say about Joseph: “His courage to life a life of faith inspires us to trust in God’s abiding love, especially in times of struggle and uncertainty.”
Pope Francis writes about his own prayer practice with Joseph, and that he’s the one he goes to when he is “in a fix.” He writes little notes of problems that need fixing and slips them under a statue of Joseph. Joseph was a carpenter after all. When we spend time with the Gospel readings about the birth of Jesus, Prince of Peace, during the time of empire, we can see that Joseph understands what it’s like to keep on keeping on during challenging times.
We don’t often spend a lot of time with Joseph, but I think we all could use a little Joseph in our lives these days.
This Christmas Eve, I prayed with “As Joseph Was a Walking” recorded by Annie Lennox. If you want to spend some time with Joseph, here’s my video prayer reflection:
On the 25th of December, Christians around the world celebrate the feast of the incarnation of God’s infinite love in our midst … the birth of Jesus, Emmanuel, God with Us … a mystery for the ages to be sure.
It is an awesome thought, to paraphrase a popsong from the 90s, not what if, but that God DID become one of us. That reality brings both comfort and challenge if one manages to screen out the commercialization of the holiday to the real fundamental message, which is love.
All powerful love … and the love of a vulnerable poor child born in a stable far from his parents’ home.
Universal love … and the particular love of a family, unconventional as it may be.
Love that is meant to transform and expand exponentially to break the binds of oppression, free captives, and build beloved community.
Love incarnate, now and then and always and forever.
It’s incredible on a theological level amd mind boggling on a practical human level.
It is stretching on a heart level, and that my friends is where my Christmas reflections take me this evening. How are we, how am I, called to incarnate love?
We incarnate love through our touch, a kind word, our presence. We can incarnate love through our dedication and faithfulness. Sometimes we are called to incarnate love through our questions and struggles, in the messiness of our lives and in the systems of oppression we resist.
Through it all, Jesus, Emmanuel, God with us, is our model, our wonder counselor, our friend.
Jesus, be with me as I seek to be an incarnator of love in my own life.
One of my favorite Christmas songs is “Only at Christmas Time” by Sufjan Stevens. Unless you are a Sufjan fan, it’s probably new to you. I think I love it so much because it centers on what is important … Jesus comes to bring us peace, to bring us joy. God with us. Emmanuel. Such love.
About ten years ago I began a personal Christmas tradition of taking a long solitary walk on Christmas Eve morning. That first walk was very special and played a key role in my discernment to become a Sister of St. Joseph of Peace. Not every Christmas Eve morning walk has been quite so profound since, but each one has held its own special blessings.
Last year, for example, I went for a walk in the forest on fresh new snow! (You can watch the video prayer I made from pictures taken on that walk.) It was spectacular to celebrate the incarnation in the midst of God’s wondrous creation.
This year I went for a soggy walk in the rain in my Chicago neighborhood.
I found myself praying with the Gospel reading from this morning (Luke 1: 67-79) which is actually the Canticle of Zechariah which the church prays daily as part of morning prayer. As hinted at by the title of this post, my footsteps especially echoed the last lines:
In the tender compassion of our God the dawn from on high shall break upon us to shine on those who dwell in darkness and the shadow of death, and to guide our feet into the way of peace.
I walked through this tunnel, as I often do, on my way to the lake. This morning as I approached the tunnel, I saw two gentleman having a conversation. One was holding a black garbage back and pointing to the litter in the park. He handed the trash bag to the other man, told him there were plastic gloves inside, and that this was as good a place as any to start. I was intrigued, but I kept going on my walk to the lake.
On my way out of the tunnel heading home, I spotted the one man who had been given the trash bag and gloves. Sure enough, he was wandering through the park, in the rain, spotting trash and putting it in the bag. I found myself thinking, “What a lovely gift for Christmas, cleaning up the park.” As I rounded the corner to cross the street, the man was within speaking distance. I wished him a Merry Christmas and asked what he was up to. It turns out, he’s down on his luck and trying to raise some money to go visit his son for Christmas. The other man was paying him to clean up the little patch of park. Again …. in the rain. Given that I had been praying for the tender compassion of God to break upon us, I of course gave him a little contribution myself.
How wonderful to celebrate the gift of the incarnation in the midst of God’s wondrous creation.
As I turn off the computer and get ready to head off to spend this day with my own father, I hold this man and his family especially in my prayers.
And I pray for all of us, that we may indeed welcome the prince of peace by stepping onto the path of peace. In our hearts. In our families. In our cities. In our world.