I focused a lot on Joy in Advent and in the Christmas season last year. This year, (continue to insert line from delightful Christmas song here) I have been struck by the image of light and the need for it and hope.
My posts from 2016 included a lot about Mercy (naturally, since it was the Year of Mercy) and also (surprisingly for me) a lot about Mary. This year, as we anticipate perhaps some dark changes because of the alarming shifts in our global and national climate, I want to focus on hope and light.
Yesterday, we had our first snowfall of the winter season. In Richmond, everything- stores, gyms, museums, schools, offices- shut down. But the bars stay open! Priorities! So some friends and I have made it our annual snowday tradition to dig out of the snow and meet at some of the bars within walking distance.
As we met and chatted (and drank) yesterday, one of my very dear friends who is always so gracious about talking about faith even though she does not particularly claim a faith for herself, started talking about the differences between the various interpretations of Christianity. This has been a big thing for me recently as I still can't wrap my head around the past election and how Christians could justify voting for a man who is against so much of what Jesus explicitly spoke FOR: namely- women, the poor, and helping others.
She said that she understood many of her family and friends who are Christian operate out of fear: fear of hell, fear of doing something wrong, fear of missing a sign from God. Which I thought was a really good point and perhaps how I even lived my Christianity at certain parts of my life.
But in recent years, for me, Christianity has always been about HOPE: Hope of heaven, hope of doing the right thing, hope of seeing a sign from God. And I think this is a really good distinction that we who are Christian need to make for ourselves to keep us in check: Are we operating out of fear? Or hope?
I also wrote in my last post about the need to focus and be a the light in the darkness, which is what today's feast of the Epiphany is all about.
The Magi were learned men who had riches and education. They had studied stars and philosophy, and read about the prophecy of the Messiah that would be from Bethlehem and foretold by a star. They saw this star and they followed it. Their journey began about one thing- perhaps curiosity, prestige, answers- and became about a very different thing, I'm sure, along the way. The priest at my parish stressed that the wise men had to follow with faith. Their studies and their hypothesis and knowledge could only take them so far. At some point, they had to press on in faith.
And so it is with us in our own "stars" and our own journeys that we are all on in our lives. We make choices, we calculate, we can look back with hindsight, but at some point, we have to push on in faith that we are being led in the right direction (and I like that this theme of "Faith" also ties back into my George Michael remembrance....)
A saint whose feast falls on Jan 6 but is perhaps often overlooked because of the feast of the Epiphany, is St. Andre Bessette who the priest at my school gave a great homily on last week.
St. Andre was perhaps the opposite of the wise men: he was uneducated, not wealthy, not able bodied, but had great faith.
So putting all of these themes and messages together: light in darkness, HOPE, following and persevering in faith...these things are what it means to be a Christian to me. And I hope that these will be themes that carry us through the Christmas season and this year. I also hope that other Christians will join me in looking at the examples these feasts set for us: that whether educated or uneducated, rich or poor, we all have our own stars to follow and all paths are equally important and valuable.