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.
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.
Celebrate the second Sunday of Advent by becoming St. Nick. This year, the second Sunday also falls on the feast of St. Nicholas, the inspiration for Santa Claus.
The pandemic has left a lot of families in bad financial straits. And, as of this writing, the government is struggling with itself to provide more help. If you are one of those families, we lift you up in prayer for quick help.
If you are lucky enough to still be in good financial shape, it’s a great time to extend your sharing. We can become Secret Santas to help others this Christmas.
Your church may have a program that you can support. You also can give additional funds to trustworthy organizations like the Salvation Army. You may also have friends and family that you can help out.
Any way we do it, we can honor the spirits of St. Nicholas and Jesus by increasing our giving this year.
This pandemic holiday season offers us an opportunity to be upset or at peace. It all depends on what we think. The Bible tells us this, and it is the essence of Christian mindfulness.
“Rejoice in the Lord always. I will say it again: Rejoice! Let your gentleness be evident to all. The Lord is near. Do not be anxious about anything, but in every situation, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus. Finally, brothers and sisters, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable—if anything is excellent or praiseworthy—think about such things.Philippians 4: 4-8, NIV
Advent and Christmas in a pandemic give us plenty of opportunity to think anxious thoughts … as well as thoughts that are angry or sad. The Lord warns us against this. He has given us the incredible opportunity to abide in him. Our thoughts help to take us there.
As Holocaust survivor Victor Frankl wrote in “Man’s Search for Meaning,” we can choose what we think about and what our attitude is, even in the worst suffering.
This choice is not automatic. If we find ourselves down in darkness, worrying about illness, the broken world, politics and so on, we can turn our attention to the Lord’s presence.
We can do that by rejoicing in his goodness. Lifting up our worries in a prayer with thanksgiving. And moving our attention to something that is true, lovely and admirable. More tips about doing this are here. Do your part, and God will do the rest.
Today’s exercise in Christian mindfulness involves paying attention. (As all these exercises do.) You’ll be paying attention to two things: something in nature and something in yourself.
Pick something in nature that you can see out your window: trees, bushes, the sky or the grass. For a few days, notice this handiwork of God. How are the trees in your view different? How do they change from day to day? Notice color, texture, shape and form. God is at work in them.
Then, think about yourself. You have survived nearly 10 months of a pandemic. How are you different? What new strengths have you discovered in yourself? What has surprised you about your reaction? How are your family relationships? Your connections to others outside the family? How can you be more of a force for good where you are?
The pandemic has changed us all. God is at work in nature. Like the trees and the sky, we, too, are changing and responding to God’s prompting. Take a look and see how the pandemic has shaped you.