And the angel said to them, “Be not afraid; for behold, I bring you good news of a great joy which will come to all the people; 11 for to you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, who is Christ the Lord. And this will be a sign for you: you will find a babe wrapped in swaddling cloths and lying in a manger.” – Luke 2: 10-12
“It may be said unequivocally that whenever anyone is in extremis (whether it is a marital crisis, an economic crisis, a political crisis, or a health crisis), their chances of survival are far greater when their horizons are formed of projected images from their own imagination rather than being limited by what they can actually see.”
― Edwin H. Friedman
In a few weeks we will sing like this is the big one. We will read the words of once and for all. We may even imagine that the proclamation of world peace is within our grasp. The words of the well-known carol “the hopes and fears of all the years are met in thee tonight” beckon us into such a world. Incredible promises… However, it is not how we will act. We will act as if there is no comfort in Christmas. We will rush from here to there burdened by the very existence of the event. We may not be afraid but there will be little relief until the day is accomplished. I am not sure it is the response the herald hoped for when it sang “glory to the new born king.”
It is the sad reality of modern life. We live in a world awash in anxiety. Every eventuality has a dark cloud. We anticipate the very worst. In the hope of safety we worry all the details. It is little wonder that anxiety has surpassed depression as the leading malady of our collective mental/emotional state. We are anxious indeed and the anxiety of the time makes the proclamation of Advent so very mute. Or at least just one more problem.
Yes, many of the readings of the lectionary in this season have a dark foreboding to them but only one stuck in the downward spiral of these days could not see beyond that dark horizon. The truth is that we have let the structures of anxiety shape our worlds so that even the gospel, the good news of this season is suspect.
Yes, I know it is not accomplished yet. I understand the world is far from the fair words of Christmas. I am aware that the promises can seem empty when we look around the world. And yet at the same time the promise of the season is still so beautiful and yes, it is filled with hope. We need such a vision. We need something better and lighter to strive for. We need to be fed the possibility so that we might act upon it. The promise is here, what is left is our response. So I urge not to rush too much. Take a moment to remember this other worldly vision of angels, and shepherds, and magi and let your mind just slip a bit. Get taken by the story and wonder. It is a great opening for God to enter our souls and well worth the time. In many ways it has already happened and yet we miss it because it seems too much trouble to stop and listen.
Tim Ives is the minister at the Scarborough Presbyterian Church. He is also a New York State licensed Psychoanalyst in private practice in Bedford Hills, New York.