This morning on Morning Edition, I heard Susan Stamberg’s lovely feature, Booksellers’ Picks, in which Lucia Silva reviewed a children’s book, A Christmas Tree for Pyn:
I sat down on the floor and read the whole thing, and by the time I got to the last word, I was that lady crying in the kids’ section. A Christmas Tree for Pyn isn’t about Santa or presents or the three wise men, and it’s not about clichés like ‘making do’ or ‘it’s the thought that counts.’ Like Trumen Capote’s A Christmas Memory, it’s about the real emotional core of the holiday—that Christmassy feeling we’re all looking for.
I find this at once moving and disappointing. Moving enough that I want to find the book and read it to my kids. But disappointing, too, at least in the sense that I’ve rather forgotten how to yearn for what Silva describes. A Christmassy feeling? Maybe it’s bad amnesia in me. But I think I’m hankering for something else, something less familiar than that particular sensation. I’m not suspicious of emotions particularly, although I do know that so much of mass-mediated life is about creating and sustaining and duplicating sensations–so there’s room to be at least a little skeptical. But, no, I’m not dubious of emotions; I’m just hankering for stranger sensations.
The Christmas story, after all, is a spilling over in the fullness of time of the strange mercy of God. Christmas at Walmart is full to plushness, but it is hardly strange–except maybe for this year’s fad of stringing purple holiday lights. (Which, as Garrison Keillor points out in a recent News from Lake Woebegone, makes your house look like a brothel.) But Christmas in Holy Scripture and in the worship of the people of God is truly, excessively odd. Imagine it. The whole of the speech of God brought to a summation, brought to its clearest articulation, in the body of the little Christ. Christmas is full of God’s speech, God’s naming, God’s calling Mary blessed among women, calling the baby Savior, calling the shepherds favored. It’s all highly irregular. I’m not sure it’s the thing that makes you sit down in the middle of a bookstore and cry, but it is something that should make you walk through the weeks of Advent wide-eyed, a little slack-jawed, casting furtive glances left and right to the people around you. Do you hear what I hear?
Do you hear that even the people who walked in darkness all year have seen a great light, even those who live right now in a land of deep darkness, even on them light has shined? Do you hear the call to confess the character of the God who gives, even when we cannot make out what God’s giving means? You hear the call of homework to do, papers to finish, projects to complete. And I’m listening to that call with you. You and I may echo Qohelet’s lament that he has seen the business that God has given to everyone to be busy with….yet they cannot find out what God has done from the beginning to the end. You hear about how the holidays induce depression in some people, bewilderment in others. But do you also hear Advent’s journey from darkness to light is a calling from confusion to awe? This season gives summons to stand in reverence before the God whose giving is a mystery. The people walking in darkness–the mothers whose two-year-old boys were killed by Herod’s soldiers, the magi bewildered by what they saw among stars and planets, the soldiers and shepherds and carpenters hard at all the business God has given to them to be busy with—on them has the odd cast of salvation’s light shined.