Saturday, January 17, 2015

Tidings of Comfort and Joy

Rev. Jeffrey Symynkywicz, December 24, 2003

In Louise May Alcott’s Little Women, the March family is struggling. They never had much to begin with, and now with Mr. March off with the Union army fighting the Civil War, such (seeming) frivolities as Christmas presents seem out of the question. But when Mrs. March, their beloved Marmee, tells her four daughters that there will be no presents, the second-oldest daughter, Jo, exclaims dejectedly: “But Christmas won’t be Christmas without any presents!”
Something in us want to chide her for saying this, of course. “Too materialistic,” we might say. We sense our own discomfort with the acquisitiveness of our culture, which reaches a mad crescendo around Christmas time. We’re sick and tired of the whole gimme, gimme, gimme—buy, buy, buy—charge, charge, charge—trapped-yet-again-at-the-mall ethos from which it has become so hard for us to escape. Jo’s comment seems to have missed the point; we admonish our children to remember the “reason for the season”, even if we have trouble remembering ourselves when we’re caught in the chaos and commotion of the holidays.
But maybe Jo was right. Christmas wouldn’t be Christmas without presents, without gifts. The idea of giving and receiving gifts is at the center of the Christmas story. But those gifts were wrapped in miracles, which is probably why we can’t find them at the mall or in catalogues or even on In our practiced pessimism and the cynicism endemic in our culture, we seldom remember to look for the miraculous in our lives. But at Christmas, an ageless wisdom reminds us that these gifts abide with us and within us, always. The knowing of all the years flows through us on Christmas Eve, reminding us of the giftedness of this blessed life. On Christmas Eve, angels can visit even the most jaded of us, and their singing reminds us of the tidings of comfort and joy beckoning to us in our hearts, and beings, and spirits. The angels remind us of all the precious presents which are ours to give, and to receive.
“I swear to you,” Walt Whitman wrote in his “Song of the Open Road”, “I swear to you, there are divine things more beautiful than words can tell.”
Faith tells us that Whitman is right. Faith tells us that there is great meaning and joy and peace in life, waiting for us, in every sacred moment of our existence.
Amidst all the distractions of life. Amidst all the “have to”’s and “ought to do”’s and “need to do”’s. Amidst all the traffic jams and household chores and pressures at work and relationships that don’t work out.
There are divine things. There are things more beautiful than words can tell. There are gifts of the spirit, waiting for us.
The Christmas miracle blesses us in so many ways. Not with all the stuff that we’ll have under our trees. Not with the Christmas feast that will set our tables sagging. These may be lovely, and I begrudge them to no one (least of all to myself). But these are not the gifts that Christmas is about. They’re just the wrapping—the tinsel and the bows of the real gifts we receive. Those real gifts of Christmas are more beautiful than words can tell!
They are gifts tied with heartstrings, as one writer has put it. They are gifts that surprise us and delight us, that gladden our hearts and give us comfort; that nurture the soul of both the giver and the receiver. They are gifts that transform the mundane into the miraculous, and transform us in the process. They are gifts to us from the very hand of God; from a frightened teenage girl (like Mary); from her bewildered fiancée (like Joseph); from shepherds and angels and townsfolk, near and far; gifts straight from the hands of all the wise men and women who have ever crossed our paths.
Now, all these gifts are ours to pass along to those with whom we share this blessed life. May we be the bearers, in this Christmastide, of our own tidings of comfort and joy. And tidings of unconditional love. Selflessness. Trust. Faith. Forgiveness. Wholeness. Peace. Generosity. Compassion. Mystery. Wonder.
All these gifts Christmas offers us in such amazing abundance! Such gifts as we can be to one another along the roads we walk on our Christmas Eve journeys to the Bethlehems of our souls.
A blessed Christmas to you all. Amen. 

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