O tidings of comfort and joy, comfort and joy. O tidings of comfort and joy!
In the spirit of the season, Father Thomas More Barba, O.P., BA ’09 ’10, who began serving as UD’s newest campus chaplain in August, shared with us the following Christmas reflection.
Christmas is a time of happiness and peace, a time of delicious food, a time to enjoy the company of family and friends. Whether we observe Christmas by preparing beforehand in the Advent season to celebrate the Nativity of the Lord or celebrate a “secular” version of Christmas, it seems to be a near-universal expectation that Christmastime is a time to be happy, celebrate and be joyful.
While this common expectation is laudable in some ways, we cannot ignore the fact that for many people Christmas is anything but a time of happiness. Some of us are filled with anxiety for weeks, because “there isn’t enough time” (or energy) to clean the house, put up decorations, compose and mail Christmas cards, cook and bake special Christmas foods, go shopping, attend Christmas gatherings, prepare to travel, etc. Some want everything to be “just right”: we have an image of the perfect Christmas in our minds, and we work tirelessly to bring that image to life. For others Christmas just doesn’t feel like a happy time, exacerbated by the shared expectation that we should be happy. Some of us remember loved ones who have died or relationships that have ended.
As a child, I loved Christmas – and I still do. My childhood and adolescent mind imagined Christmas to be a day in which everything would be beautiful and new, a day of perfect fulfillment, peace and joy. I imagined it to be a day spent with all my family and friends whom I loved. It should be extraordinary, from beginning to end. However, even as a child, I could not ignore on Christmas Day how the mundane moments outnumbered the extraordinary ones; many things didn’t go as planned, and the day ended as any other day.
Every Christmas is the last Christmas, according to one “Doctor Who” Christmas special. Looking back on the thirty or so Christmases that I’ve seen, each one was a last. Each Christmas had something or someone missing: an absent present that Santa didn’t bring, my deceased Grandpa Barba, my best friends from college and so on.
If we are honest with ourselves, Christmas is – and will always be – incomplete. As disciples of Christ, this should not bring us sadness or cause scandal. Christmas is not the fulfillment of all our expectations. Christmas is not the end: it is the beginning of something new. Christmas marks the beginning of someone truly remarkable, a little child whose birth is “a new and glorious morn.” Christmas points to the eschaton, the final fulfillment of all things. Christmas is a time of hope that the sadness, pain and loss that we all carry with us will one day be transformed into glory.
May we not run from the darkness and pain in our lives, but rather present them to the Christ child and allow His light to guide us safely home.