After a couple of chapters squarely focused on Advent, Chittister here returns to her habit of interspersing thematic musings between her considerations of specific feasts. All three of us are finding that these tend to apply to the nature of discipleship and spiritual practices in general, rather than the liturgical year in particular. So I’m going to take this as licence to focus on chapter 12, on Christmas – using chapter 11’s comments on ‘Joy: The Essence of It All’ as postscript and illustration.
Reading Chittister joyfully requires practice and patience, and chapter 12 is a great example! After five pages of what seem like irrelevant filler on the origins, dating and history of the feasts (East and West) of Christmas, she hits us with three pages crammed full of helpful observations, with some memorable one-liners thrown in for good measure.
Hers is a nicely ecumenical stance, emphasising what the West has to gain from the Eastern Church, and suggesting we see their feasts as one single celebration of Christmas/Epiphany, between them portraying four aspects of Jesus, Divinity in our Midst. He is baptismally-declared Son of God Almighty. He is Hope and Lord of the Nations, to whom eastern magi (and one day the whole human race) pay their homage. He is Lord of creation, transposing mere water into rich, intoxicating wine. And oh, yes – He is also manger-baby, thoroughly one of us in all our poverty…
This, then, is our first major feast of the year: “the clear manifestation of the One we follow.” It forces us “to recognize who it is that we, like the people of Jesus’ own time, will, in everything we do in life this year, either accept or reject.” It’s a shocking reminder that the God we have longed for in Advent is rarely the God we wanted; far less tame, far more apt to embrace humiliation, far harder to explain or answer, far sadder to hide from.
And yet this, like all the liturgical year, is (Chittister insists) really about joy. Good News of Great Joy, even. It brings us “face-to-face with life stripped down and effulgent at the same time, simple and radiant at once. Here in the Child is promise and meaning, purpose and potential.”
And these very things – “something to do, something to love and something to hope for” are the essence of joy, both human and divine. “At the very outset of the liturgical year, the church presents a model of them all: a Child who lives only to do the will of God, who opens His arms to love the entire world, who lives in hope of the coming of the reign of God by giving His life to bring it. At the very outset of the year, we are given the model of how to be happy.”
Here are a couple of questions to get the conversation started:
If Christmas is so multi-faceted, so awe-filled, so complicated, a “very adult feast,” should we even try to convey some/all of that to children? How? What do they take in, beyond the fun of lighting candles, dressing up, and swinging toy sheep round by the tail? Maybe that’s enough? What does it look like for a child to confront this Light, this Joy, for themselves?
Where have you seen Christ living out His joyful life recently? Especially from within his saints (even yourself) – what did it look like? What impact did it have on you as witness of it?