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Soul Searching

Tom Saretsky

02/01/2017

More than a month after what most think of as the end of the Christmas season, some, especially Eastern Catholics, are still in celebration mode, right to Feb. 2.

In the church, the feast of Christmas begins on Christmas Day. It doesn’t begin a week after Thanksgiving, or the week after Remembrance Day.

It’s sad that on Boxing Day many people take down their trees or throw them out. The decorations are put away and all remnants of the most festive day of the year, celebrated a mere 24 hours earlier, are all but forgotten. I’m not sure why some are so quick to extinguish Christmas festive light right after the season commences, especially given the darkness of January. Maybe it’s because the commercial season starts so early and by the time Christmas Day finally arrives people are “Christmased” out. The exhaustive preparations, the buying and wrapping, the gatherings, the familial demands and the general stress of the holiday finally reaches its peak on Dec. 25. After the weeks of celebrations are over, many people are simply done and the decorations come down.

I love the Christmas season and of course I too decorate early, but the lights and decorations are not dismantled after the 25th. Even now there is still a reminder of the Christmas season: the Nativity set. The Nativity can remain set up until Feb. 2, when the church celebrates the feast of the Presentation of Jesus in the Temple. As Both Lungs columnist Brent Kostyniuk has said, in the Eastern Church, Feb. 2 is the official end to the Christmas season. On that day, the Nativity’s Christ Child is replaced with fresh-cut flowers, symbolizing that new life will spring alive soon. That’s a more consoling sign than waiting for a groundhog to see its shadow! Our Nativity set, complete with a small battery-powered lamp overhead the crib, sits as a serene presence on one of our tables. It’s a testament to past days of comfort and joy and a reminder of the word made flesh — the gift of new life given to the world.

As peaceful as the Nativity scene appears to be, it was not quite like the carols and cards would have us believe. The stable was smelly, crowded and uncomfortable — not the most desirable place to have a baby, yet it was the place that welcomed the prince of peace and it was here that foreigners, the poor, the lonely and the outcasts came to pay him homage.

Evelyn Underhill maintains that “human nature is like a stable that is inhabited by the ox of pride and the ass of prejudice. These are animals which need a lot of space, and I would suspect that many choose to feed these animals on the side.”

Whom do you choose to feed? The Christ Child, or these animals? Pride and prejudice are insidious beasts. They represent what is wrong with the world. One look south of our border, with the newly elected President Donald Trump taking power, and we witness the beasts being fed.

For the past 18 months the world has been privy to Trump’s public and divisive diatribe against women, foreigners, and people of other faiths. His pugnacity, belligerence, and overall disdain for anyone who thinks or believes differently than he does is met with derision and subjected to insults and ridicule via his Twitter account and even in his press conferences. Unfortunately, Trump has difficulty swallowing his pride and he makes no attempt to mask his prejudice. His behaviour has given permission for others to come out of their shadows to display their own pride and prejudice. All the while, the Prince of Peace — the personification of love and acceptance — slowly starves to death. It would appear that many seem far nearer to the beastly animals than to Jesus.

Back in the time when Jesus was born, there was no room for him at the inn. In our calendar, Jesus is barely one month old. We made room in our hearts during the many weeks leading up to the celebration. How are we doing now? Is there still room for the infant child? Or have we run out of welcomes and placed a brightly lit “no vacancy” sign in our hearts?

Jesus was born amidst great pride and prejudice. Our current time in history has no monopoly on that, yet Jesus welcomed the lowly to the manger, the sinners became his friends, the outcasts and the poorest of the poor were his worshippers, and foreigners brought him extravagant gifts. As well, let us never forget that this child, who began by receiving these outcast guests, also had a prostitute as his most faithful friend, and two convicted criminals were crucified with him at the end. When you look at these two extremes, the height and the breadth and the depth of his love is clearly evident.

Good will ultimately have the final say. Light will triumph over darkness, and love will drive out hate. Our current political climate makes it difficult to believe that. It would appear we are in need of another deliverer, another saviour to usher in a new age.

What do we do in the meantime? We wait. But it is not good enough, as the writer of Lamentations would say, “to put our mouths to the dust and wait.” We must wait with purpose and action by living the same kind of goodness, light and love in our own lives. It makes our waiting much more bearable, and our saviour much more present. This kind of active and purposeful waiting promises to shine Christmas light into the darkness of our lives throughout the entire year. 

Saretsky is a teacher and chaplain at Holy Cross High School in Saskatoon. He and his wife, Norma, have two children, Nathan and Jenna.