On Faith: Remember the coming holy daysThis evening is the Christmas City of the North Parade in Duluth. For the last few years, when I’ve had children in band participating in the parade, this occasion has signified for me just what the parade planners hope it will signify: the beginning of the “holiday season.”
By: Pastor Susan Berge, Knife River Lutheran Church, Lake County News Chronicle
This evening is the Christmas City of the North Parade in Duluth. For the last few years, when I’ve had children in band participating in the parade, this occasion has signified for me just what the parade planners hope it will signify: the beginning of the “holiday season.”
This, of course, is the period of time that begins on the North Shore with tonight’s parade, continues on through Thanksgiving, to Christmas, and ends with New Year’s Eve and Day.
Charles Dickens once wrote a sentence that perfectly describes the upcoming holiday season: “It was the best of times; it was the worst of times.” That pretty much sums up how we will approach these coming weeks.
For some of us, this is the best of times – we love the holiday hubbub, the extra social occasions, the shopping, baking, entertaining, and gift giving that have come to represent “the holiday season” for our culture.
For others of us, this is the worst of times – we dislike the frenetic pace, the extra demands on our finances and time, even the extra time spent with family and friends can seem more draining than fun.
If one is struggling with grief or financial hardship, the holidays immediately turn into an ordeal of stress or sorrow. We find ourselves very far from experiencing the holidays in the way we think we should, which only makes us feel more weary and alone. But, regardless of how you experience the holiday season, as the best or worst of times, it is now upon us. So, what now?
It might benefit us to take a moment to reflect on what “the holidays” actually are. “Holidays”, of course, is a shortening of two words: “holy days.” The holidays are intended to be holy days. Holy can be defined as something that is set apart; out of the ordinary. How, then, might we experience the upcoming weeks as time that is set apart, out of the ordinary?
One way would be this: we could “set apart” these holidays from the rest of our year by our enthusiastic participation in the overwhelming ethos of our cultural expression of the holiday season: over-consumption.
Will we remember these days as being “out of the ordinary,” because we over-spent, over-ate, and over-did everything in general? If so, the fall-out from our holy days, come Jan. 2, will be a fistful of bills we can’t afford to pay and another 5 or 10 pounds added to our weight on the scale.
But, we could approach these upcoming holy days differently, by taking a counter-cultural approach that refuses, literally, to buy into the over-consumption of a typical American holiday season. Rather than over-doing everything, we could simplify our lives. Eat less, spend less, use up less time being mindlessly busy with holiday tasks.
Instead, pick a few important things on which you will focus: Prayer. Giving to those in need. Attending worship service or holiday concerts that are truly inspirational. Such priorities will leave us truly richer and fuller when Jan. 2 comes around, even though we spent and ate less than we would have otherwise.
Time is made holy by our recognition of God’s presence with us in our time, whether those times are among the worst or best of our times. Holy days are holy because God became incarnate in Christ, Emmanuel, which means, “God with us.” May these holidays be holy days for us all.
Susan Berge is Pastor of Knife River Lutheran Church. Every year she tries, with varying degrees of success, to simplify the holiday season.