Bread & Light: Celebrating Christmas
Make ready, O Bethlehem, for Eden has been opened for all. Prepare, O Ephratha, for the tree of life has blossomed forth from the Virgin …
Hymn sung by Orthodox priests at the preparation of the communion bread
I am the bread of life …
Each of us will likely spend much of our time this Christmas season feasting with family and friends. We will enjoy the decorations and the lights, and the fact that the days will begin to grow longer again.
Holiday gatherings of this sort can provide a great deal of nourishment for both body and soul. Christmas gives us the opportunity for communion and to express genuine love for one another. We renew ties with old friends through card-sending; we offer gifts to those closest to us. The darkest days of winter are made bright by these remembrances and exchanges.
To be sure, it is no accident of history that we celebrate Christmas around the time of the solstice. The coming of Christ into the world does not abolish these earthly celebrations. Rather, Christ’s advent fulfills them; it reveals their greatest spiritual significance. Christmas helps us to discern in them the spiritual light of God. Let us turn our eyes to this light, to the light that must grow continually in our hearts through a deepening closeness to its source, who is God. In an age of extreme political and social polarization, an age where the greatest human ingenuities are too often put to the service of mammon, violence, domination and cheap amusement, now more than ever do we need to seek and be nourished by this spiritual light.
Do you hunger for something but cannot put your finger on what that something might be? Have you longed to celebrate a depth of life that always seems just beyond your grasp? Try, then, to comprehend Christmas.
Christmas is Now
I say it every year: Christmas is not, in the end, some historical re-enactment of an event that happened two thousand years ago. It is not merely a memorial of Jesus’s birth. At Christmas we celebrate the appearance in the flesh, the appearance in time, of that light that is spiritual and eternal. It is the light of God, who is the spiritual source of all things, including your deepest and truest person. When a stream is cut off from its source it dries up. So, too, when we are cut off from God we can do nothing but move towards non-being and death. In communion with God we have life in its fullness even while we age.
What happened on that first Christmas day in Bethlehem, which means “House of Bread”, resounds as much today as it did two thousand years ago: we are given an invitation into communion with the source of life itself. We are offered the very bread of life, laid in the manger for us to feast upon. Our world, as the world did then, needs to hear this invitation.
The story of Christmas calls us out of darkness into light. The story of Christmas calls us into life as it should be, into the fullness of our humanity. That is to say, Christmas calls us into a life that is authentic, vivid, and significant; a life that can subsist in peace even in the midst of hardship, as opposed to a life lived on the futile treadmill of unfulfilled desires and self-absorbed ambitions. For most of us, we have more than we need. But we have to remember that it was in the plumpness of Paradise where Eve was duped by the voice of the serpent, the deceiver, and closed her ears to God’s blessing. In the midst of the brokenness of a fallen world Mary, the new Eve, now gives God her ear, her heart, her body and her whole life. In doing so, Mary gives God’s love her own flesh and bears that love into the world as Jesus Christ.
The Invitation to the Feast
We, like Mary, are called in the midst of this broken world to give birth to the Christ child. We are called to nourish him; to hold him at our breast; to allow him to be our most honored holiday guest. What a wonder it was for Mary to discover that, even while she was feeding Jesus on her breast, he was nourishing, upholding and sanctifying the whole world! When we give God our “yes” as Mary gave God her “yes” we are commissioned to bear Christ, for Christ is the time-bound human person united with the eternal God in loving intimacy. When we bear Christ and nourish him we are fed of his own self. When we feed on Christ we share both in the humility of his humanity while yet partaking in his glory. When we feed on Christ we sit at his table in the company of the all the saints. Isn’t this a wonder? Isn’t this something worth seeking? Isn’t this something to celebrate?
Come to the table of Christmas; partake of the living bread; allow the dark and forgotten corners of your soul to be exposed to the light that enlightens all.