If “peace” is such a central aspect of the Christmas season, why is it such a struggle for many of us to find peace throughout the days leading up to December 25th?
At Christmas, we remember that God entered into human history in order to deliver mercy and peace. That’s cause for celebration! But, in our day and age, the celebrating--and the corresponding obligations celebrating presents--steals away some of the peace we honor in our Christmas remembrances. Instead, it takes some deliberate attention to slowing our paces and opening up space for reflection in order to encounter some “Christmas peace.”
For centuries, Christians utilized contemplative practices in order to “unplug” from the chaos or distractions of life. Contemplative practices are simply exercises through which we direct our attention to a given topic or contemplation. In this case, we want to direct our attention towards the meaning and significance of God’s presence represented in the Christmas story.
Below are five practices through which we carve out some deliberate time during a busy holiday season and direct our attention towards the spiritual significance of the moment. Let’s see if these practices help you find some peace this Christmas season.
HOW TO GET CONTEMPLATIVE AT CHRISTMAS
Use the inconveniences.
The lines in the checkout aisle are longer this time of year. Traffic is a little more bountiful. Your personal calendar may feel a bit tighter. There are some looming deadlines…
All these are reminders that something special is happening this time of year. Use the moments of recognizing these inconveniences as reminders that this season is set apart from the rest of the year. Let your wait in line be an invitation to reflect on what has inspired everyone else to come to the store at this time, too. How is Christ present (or not evidently present) at this moment of waiting? What human longings are reflected in our actions this time of year? How has God responded?
Turn the preparation into prayer.
Hanging lights, decorating a tree and baking cookies can be highly contemplative acts as they are all acts of preparation. As you move through these acts of preparation, prayerfully consider your hopes for this season. Turn those hopes into prayers as you tell God about your longings for Christmastime. And let the time of preparation be an opportunity for listening, too. What is God saying during this time of preparation?
Our biggest complaint leading into Christmas is often centered on the season’s consumerism. As Charlie Brown noted, Christmas has gone commercial. Rebel against the commercialism of the season by refraining from consuming something. Give up listening to the radio while you commute and see how that opens you up to moments of contemplation. Give up sweets until Christmas Day and see how the anticipation heightens your sense of participation in the season.
This episode of the Compass Podcast has some great ideas around digital fasting and carving out more holy space during the special season.
Read a little of Luke 1 and 2 every day.
The narrative of Luke chapters 1 and 2 reflect a lot of anticipation and longing. How are you like the people in the story? Are we still waiting for what they were waiting for? How have you seen what they hoped for delivered?
Consider the images of the season.
If you’ve ever been to an Eastern Orthodox church, you’ve likely noted the prevalence of icons--images of significant saints or biblical characters. Their use is tied to the idea that God, who is bodiless, took on a physical form in Jesus in order to unite humanity and the divine.
Our Christmas season is rich in imagery--from lights to greenery. Much like the icons of the Orthodox tradition can be a reminder of God’s holy presence, the images we see in the Christmas season are reminders of a special spirit of the season. What might these images represent? What inspires our use of stars and angels… and reindeer… at this particular time? How are they adding to the meaning of this season?
A great way to engage in the imagery of the season is through our Advent Photo-a-Day Challenge. You can see what participants are posting and you can still participate, too!