"Every valley shall be exalted, every mountain and hill shall be made low; the crooked shall be made straight, and the rough places plain."
- Isaiah 40:4
The "holidays" are here, that time of year when budgets squeeze, traffic jams, and days merge into one long stretch, like a run-on sentence with no period at the end. We vow to pace ourselves, stay calm and match the mood of the "fa-la-la-la-la's" blaring from store loudspeakers, yet breathe a grateful sigh when the season is past.
When I was a child I told my father I wished Christmas came every week. "Well, I don't," he said, stunning me with his unenthusiastic reply. How could anyone, I wondered, even "old" moms and dads, not want a wonderful time like Christmas to happen more often?
Well, Daddy, I'm an old mom now, too, and I do understand. Your less-than-merry mood had more to do with fatigue and the lack of means to fulfill my fantasies than with any intent to dampen my Christmas cheer. But I suspect you also were using that opportunity to widen my idea of the holiday beyond what I would find under the tree.
I'm also an "old" grandmother now, trying to follow your widening footsteps for another generation of children who have the same Christmas sparkle in their eyes you once saw in mine.
This year I'm rethinking that widening process, not only for my grandchildren but also for myself. I wonder: Where am I in the learning process of understanding this once-a-year celebration we call "Christmas?"
First a regression in terms, before "holy days" became "holidays" and the church turned the end of the calendar year into "Advent," a four-week period of preparation for the coming (advent) of the Christ Child which we call the beginning of the church year. Part of that preparation includes reviewing the Old Testament promises of that "coming," and remembering why such an event occurred.
We read in Isaiah 40 - or sing in George F. Handel's Messiah: "Every valley shall be exalted... the crooked places made straight," and wonder, beyond their poetic beauty, what these words mean. Are we to expect nothing but straight roads and flat-land monotony replacing our scenic drives?
When Isaiah was alive most people traveled on foot. Because the language of the Bible reflects conditions at the time it was written, those who heard these words would have known that the leveling of the roads in that mountainous country meant their journeys would be less strenuous.
So when the words of the prophets were turned into messages from God, it was easier to translate the visual images into spiritual lessons they could understand. Their "mountains" were the trials they struggled to overcome, the "valleys" and "crooked places" further problems in their care-worn lives. The "Messiah" would smooth and straighten their inner path, too, and their souls would be at peace.
Like the physical earth, someone has said, our world is a balance between the peaks of the mountains, the depths of the valleys, and the infinite leveling of the plains. We'd rather life were completely smooth now so we wouldn't enjoy good health one day and become ill the next, or celebrate a joyous occasion one week and bury the casualties of a tragedy the next.
But ups and downs, tragedies and triumphs, are the mountains and valleys of life. This life, that is, not the next when, because of the Christ of Advent (Christmas) we will be invited to enjoy the eternal, infinite leveling of the plains. For then "the glory - the coming, life, death and resurrection - of the Lord shall be revealed" (Isaiah 40:5).
What a Christmas gift!
Barbara Seaborn is a local freelance writer. E-mail comments to seabara at aol.com.
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