The ferocious intensity and strain that many of us bring to Christmas must suggest to some onlookers that, on the whole, Christians do not seem to have gotten the point of it.
“Without me you can do nothing,” said Jesus. Yet we act, for the most part, as though without us, God can do nothing. We think we have to make Christmas come, which is to imply that we think we have to bring about the redemption of the universe on our own. However, all that God needs is a willing womb, a place of safety, nourishment and love. “Oh, but nothing will get done,” you say. “If I don’t do it, Christmas won’t happen.”
God asks us to give everything of ourselves away. The gift of greatest power that we can offer God and creation is not our skills, talents, or possessions. The wise men had their gold, frankincense and myrrh. Paul and Peter had their preaching. Poor Mary had only interior space, love, belief – her being.
What is it that delivers Christ into the world? Is it preaching, art, writing, scholarship, social justice, mission? These are gifts well worth sharing, but preachers lose their charisma, scholarship grows pedantic, and justice alone cannot save us. When all other human gifts have met their inevitable limitation, it is the recollected one, the bold virgin with a heart in love with God who makes a sanctuary of her life, who delivers Christ, who then delivers us.
Recollection is an old-fashioned word, rarely heard anymore. In the spiritual sense recollection means quiet tranquility of mind and self-possession. Recollection is the gentle art of prayerful gathering in in preparation for deeper prayer. One calls back the scattered, fragmented self, strewn about one’s world like trash on a windy day. I pick up the pieces, sweep out the psychic debris, reorder the clutter and bring back to the center – wholeness. All about me that is frantic and frayed, dispersed helter skelter, leaving me anxious, confused and overwhelmed is drawn back. I am no longer like a cracked and broken bowl which leaks and spills its contents, but I am mended and suitable once again for holding my life, for containing safely and serviceably who I am.
Try it. Leave behind your briefcase and notes and proof texts. Leave behind your honed skills and knowledge. Leave the Christmas decorations up in the attic. Go to someone in need and say, “Here, all I have is Christ.” And find out that is enough.
Imagine a Christmas service where the worshipers come in their holiday finery to find a sanctuary empty of all the glittering decorations, silent of holiday carols. What if this year you canceled the church decoration committee and the worship committee and called off the extra choir rehearsals and the church school pageant?
What if on Christmas Eve people came and sat in the dim pews and someone stood up and said, “Something happened here while we were all out at the malls, while we were baking cookies and fretting about whether we bought our brother- in- law the right gift. Christ was born. God is here.”?
We wouldn’t need the glorious choruses, the harp, the bell choir, and the organ. We wouldn’t need the tree strung with lights. We wouldn’t have to deny that painful dissonance between the promise and hope of Christmas and a world wracked with sin and evil. There wouldn’t be that embarrassing conflict over the historical truth of the birth stories and whether Mary was really a virgin. And no one would have to preach sermons to work up our belief.
All that would seem gaudy and shallow in comparison to the sanctity of that still sanctuary. And we, hushed and awed by something greater and wiser and kinder than we, would kneel of one accord in the stillness. A peace would settle over the planet like a velvet coverlet drawn over a sleeping child. The world would recollect itself and discover itself held in the womb of the Mother of God. We would be filled with all the fullness of God.
You might try a small experiment this year. Deliberately do not do something you usually do at Christmas. Choose something that feels like a burden, or is no longer a source of fun or delight. Instead of doing something, be something. Be womb. Be dwelling for God.