May the blessing of joy abide within you. May the blessing of peace rest upon you. May the blessing of love flow out through you. May all the blessings of the Lord be yours at Christmas and in the new year.Author unknown, posted on Christianity.com
Like many people, we will be missing some faces at Christmas. Some of them, permanently.
Not being able to enjoy Christmas with grandchildren, adult children, and parents who have died or are isolated in a nursing home … that’s not a very nice present.
It’s OK to feel sad and lonely, especially this pandemic Christmas. The practice of Christian mindfulness … living in the present moment in the presence of God … can help to alleviate the suffering.
We are never alone. The baby whose birth we celebrate is present. Israel prophesied that this baby would be called “Immanuel,” which means “God with us.” And he is with us indeed.
This Christmas, remember to stop, breathe and invite God into your life … hour by hour, if not more often. Experiencing the presence of God makes this an extraordinary Christmas season. Opening ourselves to God’s grace and peace enables us to impart grace to our lonely and isolated loved ones during this season.
Today is winter solstice, the shortest day of the year. In one of the darkest (and longest) years in memory. And tonight the two largest planets in our solar system will appear as a double planet.
The last time Jupiter and Saturn looked this close together was March 4, 1226. Many are calling the event “the return of the Christmas star.” Hopefully some will be able to see it in the southwest sky at twilight. (Ohio white sky probably will make that impossible for us.)
We bring Christian mindfulness to winter solstice. We offer prayers of gratitude for our relative safety and security as the cold approaches. We prepare for winter. We fill the bird feeders. We generally make our favorite cocoa mix. (This year I went a little nuts on the hot chocolate K-cups, so we’ll skip that.)
Tomorrow the days start getting lighter. My friends in medicine are getting vaccines. My mother-in-law, who is in a memory care unit at a long-term care facility, gets hers next month. Hope is on the horizon.
The nature of time makes even joyful moments feel transient. I have a PhD in “waiting for the other shoe to drop.” And I know lots of people just like me.
Yet I’ve changed. There is a way to find lasting joy. I have it in writing.
Since 2017, I’ve kept a five-year journal that asks a question each day. It’s so interesting to see how I’ve answered the same question over the years. The question for Dec. 19 is: If you could change one thing about today, what would it be? My answers:
- 2017: My broken ankle would be healed, and I would be completely mobile.
- 2018: I would be on track for Christmas. The house would be completely decorated, tree done, presents wrapped and stocking stuffers purchased.
- 2019: Mother would not be in late stage dementia in a nursing home that is giving her questionable care.
- 2020: We would be able to see our 3-year-old granddaughter at Christmas because the pandemic would be over.
The broken ankle healed. I am on track for Christmas. Mother’s agony at the nursing home ended with her passing. It all was resolved. Hopefully, next year we will be able to enjoy Christmas with our granddaughter because the pandemic is over.
In a few days, I will be asked to answer this question, “When was the last time you felt joy and peace?” The answers so far:
- 2017: During morning prayer
- 2018: During morning prayer
- 2019: During morning prayer. Mother died this morning.
The 2020 answer will probably also be “during morning prayer.” (I am fortunate enough to have multiple prayer times each day, but I fill out the five-year journal directly after morning prayer.)
The nature of time makes it difficult to feel peace and joy. Unless you are spending time in the presence of Jesus. Christian mindfulness involves experiencing the present in the presence of God. That is how you find lasting joy.
Advent is a time of waiting, but not sterile and empty waiting. It is a time of creative expectancy … we know that we must get ourselves ready for the coming of Christ. We know that Christ is with us, but we also know that the full presence of the Risen Lord is never totally a part of our consciousness and our actions. Advent brings that presence into our daily lives so that at Christmas we can say that God is more a reality to us than before we began our waiting.Rembert Weakland, OSB
The Gospel According to Santa Claus goes beyond commercialization. It impacts the heart and soul of the Christmas celebration. It took its shape as gospel in the 20th century. And it’s going strong today.
What does Santa preach? The late, great nonprofit organization, Alternatives, wrote about it in their compilation “Treasury of Celebrations: Create Celebrations that Reflect Your Values and Don’t Cost the Earth.”
"The good news of Santa Claus is for the affluent. Santa's mission is mainly to the healthy and successful. The heralds of Santa Claus proclaim self-satisfaction. Pleasure is the dominant theme. There is no room for self-denial and the cross. To stimulate business: 'Let one who has a coat get another coat.' " "Treasury of Celebrations" is out of print. Grab it if you can find it. It's a five-star book for my household. Other good resources for Christian mindfulness are here. This Advent, consider how the gospel of Santa Claus contrasts with the gospel of Jesus. The Jesus who came to Earth to sacrifice himself, at great cost, so we can join him forever in Heaven. The Jesus who cares about the poor, the homeless, the sick, the imprisoned. Meditate on this.
Let’s open ourselves to the good and glorious for the rest of the Advent season. It’s all around us, even if we are staying inside our homes each day.
Stay in the present moment in the presence of God this Advent. And notice what is good around you. This is Christian mindfulness. It brings us relief from the suffering and fear of pandemic and politics.
Notice the blue sky outside, the Christmas decorations inside. Look deeply at those that have significant meaning … the ones from Grandma or the kids when they were small. Drink in the memories and thank God for your life.
Express your joy to those around you. Especially on social media. It’s catching. And you may share things about your family life that they don’t know.
Pray or journal in silence, asking the Lord to show you how you have grown this year. What are the true benefits of this time in your life as a Christian?
We can expand the good with prayers offering thanks and seeking similar peace, especially for those with whom we disagree.
The joy of the Lord is your strength.Nehemiah 8:10b
The pandemic Advent is focusing us to look at things in a new way. In my house, we are moving toward the first Christmas without both our mothers and the presence of our grandchild. It could be sad. So let us intentionally bring joy and laughter to our homes instead.
This Advent, make laughter a daily intention. If you haven’t laughed hard by 7 p.m., watch a funny movie or TV show. Listen to a funny podcast, or read a humorous book. If you have friends who always make you laugh, reach out to one of them. You also could create an Instant Smile collection, described here.
Laughter is good for you. The Mayo Clinic lists these short-term and long-term benefits:
- Stress relief
- Enhanced intake of oxygen-rich air
- Stimulation of heart, lungs and muscles
- Increased endorphins
- The ability to raise and then lower heart rate and blood pressure, causing relaxation
- Reduction of the physical effects of tension
- Improved immune system (releasing neuropeptides that fight stress and illness)
- Pain relief
- Improved coping abilities
- Reduced depression and anxiety
So make laughter part of your Christian mindfulness practice this Advent. It’s no joke. You’ll feel better.
Essential workers, we have learned in this pandemic, are not necessarily the best paid. They are delivery people, teachers, sanitation workers and grocery store clerks among others. Health care workers often take home modest paychecks and giant levels of stress. Aides in nursing homes may not make a living wage at all.
This Advent, try a Christian mindfulness practice of noticing these workers. Along with others who are the least, the last and the lost. Be present with the people you meet. Talk to your postal worker. Speak to the homeless man. Say “thank you” to the people who are serving your family during the pandemic. Pray about the people you see. You may be prompted to help someone.
Jesus spoke to beggars and lepers. He saw his society’s outcasts. And He thinks we are all essential. We imitate Him as we do the same.
The 2005 film “Joyeux Noel” (“Merry Christmas”) has profound lessons to teach a divided United States in 2020.
It tells the story of the Christmas Truce of December 24-25, 1914, during World War I. Groups of Germans and Allies are waging war on each other from trenches in northern France. They are so close together that they can hear each other. A small strip of No Man’s Land, littered with the bodies of their dead, divides them.
The truce begins to take shape when German Crown Prince Wilheim sends a lot of Christmas trees and the lead singer of the Berlin Imperial Opera to the front line. After listening to the singing in the German trenches, the French soldiers rise up for a standing ovation from their trenches. Eventually the German singer moves to the middle of No Man’s Land to sing for everyone.
The officers from all troops meet to negotiate a truce. The soldiers come out from the trenches to share food, sing carols, attend a church service, bury their death and play soccer. Then it’s back to war. But the soldiers have met the enemy, and they are not the same.
When their commanders learn about the truce from reading the soldier’s letters home, the reaction is fury. The German soldiers are even sent to the Russian front in January on a suicide mission.
This story has much to say today when people … even Christians … of different political parties in the United States despise each other. We need to come out of the trenches and talk.
You can rent “Joyeux Noel” on YouTube. Actors in the movie speak English, French and German, with subtitles.