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If I ever return to the custom of sending Christmas cards, the cover will be a picture of a light shining in the darkness or an evergreen in the midst of a barren forest or a laughing child in a ramshackle stable. Inside, the greeting will be straightforward, “Have a defiant Christmas.”
Of course, I really do not want people to have a defiant Christmas. I want them to have a harmonious Christmas. I want the inner and outer world to be in sync. Light inside and out, greenness inside and out, love inside and out. In other words, I wish people the full peace of Christmas—good enough health, good enough finances, good enough relationships, and a good enough stable, nonviolent society and world. As the lapel button calling for the Second Coming from the ’60s put it, “Parousia Now!” Idealistic as it is, that’s what I want.
But that is not what we always get. Christmas arrives to find our health precarious, our careers, jobs, or vocations under stress, our finances dipping badly, our relationships in need of repair, and our society and world slightly insane. How can we celebrate Christmas in situations like these? Isn’t the only realistic response anxiety and gloom?
When the outer world is darkness, barrenness, and rejection, Christmas is a lesson in bringing forth and responding to the inner world of light, greenness, and love. Spiritual teachers think that since this inner world is rooted in a transcendent love, it is more powerful than all the attacks that emerge out of both our finitude and sinfulness. “I have said this that you might have peace in me. In the world you have tribulations, but cheer up, I have overcome the world” (John 16:33). Christmas cheer, when it is modeled on this passage from Saint John, engenders in us a gentle defiance to the tribulations of the world. Gentle defiance is not on the standard list of Christian virtues, but it is the Christmas gift that we all need to unwrap at one December or another.
John Shea, from “Have yourself a defiant little Christmas,” USCatholic.org
How do we open this gift of inner light, greenness, and love? How do we get in touch with it? How do we allow it to flow into our lives?