Holding the tension
Since I was a child, Christmas has been about many different things: gifts and lights and wonder; travel and food and laughter; tiredness, conversation, and family… so many different things, emotions, scenarios, seasons, moments all rolled into the day that we celebrate the birth of Jesus.
For many years, it was about the birth for me. What it represented: hope, promise, life. But lately? It’s been more about the mother who bore the child. The risk, faith, terror, and awe she must have gone through to carry and birth the baby who would change everything. Except for her, it wasn’t certain. She had no way of knowing that thousands of years later, we would sing songs about her and her son born on Christmas Day. For Mary, Jesus was a whisper, a faith, a perhaps… an “I hope so.” All she had was the word of an angel and the (shaky and controversial) commitment of her betrothed. And as much as we want to think those two things would have been enough for us, I wonder what it was ACTUALLY like; how humbling and terrifying it would have been. How wonderful, too.
I think about the politics, economics, and culture of Mary’s day and age, the impact it had on her and her family, and the days, months and years post the saviour’s birth. I allow it to challenge me. The Christmas carols and prawns and beach cricket are lovely and all, but as a mother alive and awake in the world today, I need Christmas to be about more than that. I need Christmas to reach into my soul and stir things up a bit.
I want comfort, but I want direction, too. I want to have fun with my family and friends, but I don't want to pacify my fears and ignore heartache. I want to stay on track. Many use Christmas as a grand distraction from the issues at hand in their lives; from the political to the personal. But I’m challenging myself to take the opportunity that Christmas so uniquely presents us to hold the tension of the merry and the mayhem, the hope and the heartache, the terror and the wonder, in both my hands and see it with eyes of faith. And somehow, be thankful for it all. It’s a grace, right?
Celebrating the birth of Christ shouldn’t distract us from justice, but propel us towards it. Any Christmas message or practice that doesn’t is missing the point of why Christ was born - and to whom and wherein - in the first place.
So this year, I’m still buying gifts, but fewer than usual. I’m still planning a lovely meal, but I’m not going “all out”. I want to rest in the love that has always been mine, and have the space to reflect on all that has and is happening, and what is to come. I’m refusing to give into the hype and stress of “more is better,” and am instead keeping things as anxiety free, on budget, and simple as I can. We’re talking with our kids about how they’re getting fewer ‘things’ because we want to have more ‘moments.’ We’re focusing on creating space, making room, being present. After all, unto us a child is born - I want to hold Mary’s hand, encourage her as she pushes new life from her own body, as she dances with pain and joy; I want to be there for the birth and all that comes next.
Lizzy Milani is the Co-Founder and Author of Pocketfuel, daily inspirations that will challenge you to think in new ways about faith, God and life.