When Christmas is not the same; Joy in the quiet. Holy Family 2017

All of the presents have been opened, the leftovers are on their last days in the fridge and all  most of the wrapping paper has been picked up off of the floor and yet, it's still Christmas! This is the sweet spot. The time when the hustle and bustle is over and the kids are basking in the glow of their new toys. Parents are tired but feeling blessed and looking forward to the hope of a new year. Appropriate that we celebrate today the feast of the Holy Family.  I love those exciting, busy, loud moments as much as anyone. I live for the joy of Christmas. But I've come to learn that 'family' happens in the quiet, in the moments after.

I reflected a lot, this year, on the emotions and expectations that Christmas time (and the weeks leading up to it) bring about in us. Our family traditions are not only fun but they are extremely formative. The anticipation of joy is almost cemented to our memories and as we get older and they change we can go through some serious disillusionment when things aren't as they always have been. As a child we ALWAYS did Christmas eve the same way as well as Christmas day. In my little mind it had always been this way and always would be. I distinctly remember the year I got mostly clothes instead of toys. I was 13 sitting on the bricks of the fireplace in my childhood home ripping open a box to find a new sweater and I had the very sobering and sad thought that Christmas would never be the same again. But, a new year brought new joy, though not attached to toys in the years following, found itself in the food and fellowship and tradition and the people I was so familiar with. Then, I got married and had to integrate a whole other person and family into my schedule. Around the same time my grandparents passed away and my parents sold our childhood home and it seemed as though Christmas would never be the same again. But, time passed and I realized that though the schedule changed the heart of Christmas did not. In recent years things have changed over and over again; moves, deaths, births, marriages... Things keep changing and they keep staying the same.

This year was particularly odd and quiet. We didn't have any Christmas family gatherings before Christmas day when we usually have many. I got the flu a few days before Christmas and was quarantined to my room when I normally would have been cleaning and baking and wrapping and preparing. Christmas eve was quiet and different. Like recent years, I had spent Advent in daily prayer and preparation for the coming of Christ. I shopped and baked and wrapped in the weeks before but more importantly, I prayed and prepared my heart. This grace was the greatest gift I could have received, especially in this odd year. On Christmas eve I found myself sitting on the couch frazzled by the thought of how to do everything after days of being sick and simultaneously a little sad at the unfamiliar when suddenly a beautiful and solemn rendition of Silent Night began playing. I was struck. I sat and closed my eyes and wept for a moment. This was Christmas, and it filled my heart in a way that I had not felt in years. The joy of Christ is constant and permanent and unchanging even when all else is stripped away, ESPECIALLY when all else is stripped away. Christ is the same yesterday, today and tomorrow.

Christmas morning was similar. I watched my children experience the joy of waking up to a glowing tree with beautiful packages beneath its branches. I watched as they experienced happiness at their gifts and disappointment that they did not get all that they had hoped. I watched as they rested in the joy anyway and even though I wanted to fix for them, I smiled because I know one day they will remember these days and hopefully come to place their joy in the Christ child too. That might be the greatest gift I could have given them this year, even though they may not know it for years to come.

I had many more moments like that this Christmas because there was more space to have them, more quiet, less expectation. I have not experienced a Christmas like this in a long time. Today I find myself struck again as I think about the Holy Family and their own moment after the hustle and bustle. Between the big exciting moments and the uncertainty of the future there is usually a moment of quiet and reflection. Thats the moment when God speaks, if we listen. I think of our lady and St. Joseph in the quiet with the Christ chid. Exhaustion and joy and fear and hope all quelled by the peace of that little face and the change that his presence brought, in their lives and in the history of mankind. Rest with the Holy Family today.

Merry Christmas to you and your family and happy feast of the Holy Family and all hope for a joyful and blessed New Year. Take a moment and listen to some of this stunning album and reflect on this image of the Holy Family.


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