Monday, November 29, 2004

The Annunciation

The world of advertising has been preparing the consumer for Christmas since at least Halloween. Expecting store to change their displays at Thanksgiving is as anachronistic as a plum pudding. Complaining about it has also become old hat, although surely one of the few things that states both red and blue could agree on.

There is at least one ad I've seen that almost captures the traditional meaning of Christmas, from a nation-wide toy store chain. The tag line is something like "There is no pleasure like seeing joy on a child's face; even better is knowing you put it there." Obviously, the message is that you will put joy on a child's face by giving him or her material goods purchased from that toy store. But, at least it directs the buyer's mind to people outside him/her-self.

If there is a time of year Americans exemplify the "quiet desperation" Thoreau spoke of, Christmas is it. Look at the faces of your fellow shoppers: I imagine you'll find very few smiles there. Come Christmas Eve, many of us will sing of "comfort & joy," yet I expect we'll be hard pressed to find many concrete examples of either comfort or joy prior to December 31. When much of the joy will be fueled by alcohol, which somewhat cheapens the emotion.

Like many churches, the Cathedral had a special service the morning of Thanksgiving Day. What made it unique was the fact that the service included a baptism. In his sermon, Dean Back made an off-hand remark to the effect that our souls were like infants.

Indeed, many Orthodox icons represent the soul as an infant. Celtic tradition holds that when one looks into an infant’s face, one perceives the face of God. In fact, the infant is one of those "thin places" where heaven and earth meet.

As the liturgical season of Advent begins, that is the announcement we need to hear: "Your soul is an infant. Nourish it for growth."

Each of us needs to find those things that nourish our souls. For me, it may be great music or art. For you, it may be shopping for your grandchild. I would suggest two guidelines: that the activity be other-directed, and that joy be found in it. For joy is the spark that warms and nourishes the soul.

Lk 1:26-38

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