On the joyous occasion of one of Christianitys holiest days - indeed, the day commemorating the literal birth of the entire faith - its difficult to confront the modern emotions that almost make the celebration of Christmas Day anticlimactic.
After all, those who are able spend lots of money (not enough, this year, economists and merchants tell us) on gifts for family and friends, even as we anticipate our own happy episodes of unwrapping. We stock up on enough food to sustain the average South American village for a week, topped off by sweets packed with more calories than an all-you-can-eat buffet at a Southern truckstop.
And then, when the Big Day comes, we heave a sigh of relief that its here and even welcome its departure - as if the buildup and anticipation overloaded our ability to appreciate the actual event.
Theres a metaphor for all of this hiding in the jokes we tell about children excitedly opening complicated, expensive toys and then spending the afternoon playing with the box it came in:
Christmas, at its best, is simple.
Two millennia ago, a young family rode into a small Middle Eastern town, only to find themselves without a place to stay for the night. A kindly hotel owner let them bunk in his barn, where the young woman gave birth in the night to a baby boy.
Shepherds and scholars found out about the special child and traveled far just to visit, bringing little gifts and admiration with them. Nothing fancy, no great hurrah, no neon signs - just elation in their hearts to lure them, and a star in the sky to guide them.
Amazing, when you think about it, that there was so little fanfare (aside from centuries of prophecy, which came without the advantage of television) for Christs birth, yet the event itself was so overwhelmingly powerful that it led to a rearrangement of our calendar and the foundation of the worlds foremost religion.
Now, all the fanfare is clanging cymbals and screaming commercials, with the day itself marking little more than a period at the end of a long, excitable paragraph.
Somehow, though, a quiet deceleration is just what we all need after weeks of commercial hyperactivity. Christmas, which comes but once a year, is a fine time to slow down and remember that even the manger long ago buzzed with activity before the birth of a baby, who later slept amid the silent night.
May your Christmas Day be calm and bright - and restful.
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