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Today is New Year’s Eve.  Many folks are giving thanks that 2016 is over, although their reasons doubtless vary.  Some of us lost family or friends, others had health problems, others suffered economic setbacks.

Happy or not that the year is over, many folks are putting the finishing touches on their list of New Year’s resolutions, resolutions that are unlikely to remain intact past the second or third week of the month.

I saw a suggestion not long ago that seemed to me a better way to begin the new year than with half-hearted resolutions.  The suggestion was this:

This January, why not start the year with an empty jar and fill it with notes about good things that happen over the course of the year.  Then, on New Years Eve, empty it and see what awesome stuff happened that year.

Some of us do a daily Examen, part of which is giving thanks for all of the blessings of the day.  But I love the idea of watching the notes pile up in a jar that can then be re-savored at year end.

I plan on implementing the suggestion.  Why not join me?

From Busy to Hygge

“Hygge” is a Danish term defined as “a quality of cosiness and comfortable conviviality that engenders a feeling of contentment and well-being.”  It has also been described as “a feeling or mood that comes taking genuine pleasure in making ordinary, every day moments beautiful or special,” and “the art of creating intimacy, either with yourself, friends and your home.”

I was interested to learn that there have a number of books about hygge published this year in the United States, with more expected in 2017.

A recent New Yorker article called winter “the most hygge time of year,” suggesting that hygge

is candles, nubby woolens, shearling slippers, woven textiles, pastries, blond wood, sheepskin rugs, lattes with milk-foam hearts, and a warm fireplace. Hygge can be used as a noun, adjective, verb, or compound noun, like hyggebukser, otherwise known as that shlubby pair of pants you would never wear in public but secretly treasure. Hygge can be found in a bakery and in the dry heat of a sauna in winter, surrounded by your naked neighbors. It’s wholesome and nourishing, like porridge; Danish doctors recommend “tea and hygge” as a cure for the common cold. It’s possible to hyggealone, wrapped in a flannel blanket with a cup of tea, but the true expression of hygge is joining with loved ones in a relaxed and intimate atmosphere. One of the more common responses to “How are you,” is “busy, really busy.”

One of the more common responses in the United States to “how are you?” is “busy, really busy.”  We put so much stress on using our time “productively,” viewing “really busy” as a virtue.

Perhaps the recent interest in books about hygge might signal a desire to change that.  We could all do with less stress on being busy all of the time  and more on “the art of creating intimacy.”

Maya Angelou wrote a poem for the 2005 White House tree-lighting ceremony title Amazing Peace.  It encourages us to embrace the peace and promise of Christmas.  It provides a good reminder, as we continue in our celebration of Christmas, of the peace we are meant to be and bring to the world.

Thunder rumbles in the mountain passes
And lightning rattles the eaves of our houses.
Flood waters await us in our avenues.

Snow falls upon snow, falls upon snow to avalanche
Over unprotected villages.
The sky slips low and grey and threatening.

We question ourselves.
What have we done to so affront nature?
We worry God.
Are you there? Are you there really?
Does the covenant you made with us still hold?

Into this climate of fear and apprehension, Christmas enters,
Streaming lights of joy, ringing bells of hope
And singing carols of forgiveness high up in the bright air.
The world is encouraged to come away from rancor,
Come the way of friendship.

It is the Glad Season.
Thunder ebbs to silence and lightning sleeps quietly in the corner.
Flood waters recede into memory.
Snow becomes a yielding cushion to aid us
As we make our way to higher ground.

Hope is born again in the faces of children
It rides on the shoulders of our aged as they walk into their sunsets.
Hope spreads around the earth. Brightening all things,
Even hate which crouches breeding in dark corridors.

In our joy, we think we hear a whisper.
At first it is too soft. Then only half heard.
We listen carefully as it gathers strength.
We hear a sweetness.
The word is Peace.
It is loud now. It is louder.
Louder than the explosion of bombs.

We tremble at the sound. We are thrilled by its presence.
It is what we have hungered for.
Not just the absence of war. But, true Peace.
A harmony of spirit, a comfort of courtesies.
Security for our beloveds and their beloveds.

We clap hands and welcome the Peace of Christmas.
We beckon this good season to wait a while with us.
We, Baptist and Buddhist, Methodist and Muslim, say come.
Peace.
Come and fill us and our world with your majesty.
We, the Jew and the Jainist, the Catholic and the Confucian,
Implore you, to stay a while with us.
So we may learn by your shimmering light
How to look beyond complexion and see community.

It is Christmas time, a halting of hate time.

On this platform of peace, we can create a language
To translate ourselves to ourselves and to each other.

At this Holy Instant, we celebrate the Birth of Jesus Christ
Into the great religions of the world.
We jubilate the precious advent of trust.
We shout with glorious tongues at the coming of hope.
All the earth’s tribes loosen their voices
To celebrate the promise of Peace.

We, Angels and Mortal’s, Believers and Non-Believers,
Look heavenward and speak the word aloud.
Peace. We look at our world and speak the word aloud.
Peace. We look at each other, then into ourselves
And we say without shyness or apology or hesitation.

Peace, My Brother.
Peace, My Sister.
Peace, My Soul.

The University of St. Thomas Office for Spirituality has been posting (and e-mailing to subscribers) daily reflections during the Advent/Christmas season.  Today’s reflection, for the Feast of St. Stephen, was written by my friend Hans Gustafson, Associate Director of the Jay Phillips Center for Interfaith Learning.

Hans acknowledges that seems natural for us to identify with Stephen, “the one being silenced, berated, ignored, beaten and killed.”  But he admits that as much as he would like to identify with the persecuted Stephen sometime he is more similar to the “stoners, that is, I am more likely to ‘cover my ears,’ ‘yell at the top of my voice,’ and refrain from listening to those who might experience and interpret the world in ways that run contrary to my own.”  Yet he reminds us

In a world of increasing interconnectivity and encounter with the other (cultures, politics, religions, races, etc.), I am reminded of the great need for listening in my own development as a full person. The religious traditions and cultural worldviews that are alive today offer an abundance of resources to help cultivate this seemingly simple, yet most challenging, skill of listening. Many religious traditions teach generally about the divinity of the human person. In our interaction with others, they teach, we interact with the divine, with God. In listening to others, we listen to God. If this is the case, or even in the neighborhood of being the case, I am challenged to uncover my ears, refrain from shouting, and listen … to really listen.

Hans’ challenge is the challenge for all of us: to uncover our ears, refrain from shouting, and to really listen.

Somehow it Happened

Today is Christmas Day.  Some years ago, I first saw A Christmas Prayer, written by Ian Oliver, pastor for the University Church at Yale University.   It makes for a good Christmas morning reflection.

On that holy night,
Somehow
It happened.

Somehow,
God took a handful of humanity:
Proud, petulant, passionate;
And a handful of divinity:
Undivided, inexpressible, incomprehensible:
And enclosed them in one small body.

Somehow, the all too human
Touched the divine.
And was not vaporized.
To be human was never the same,
But forever thereafter,
Carried a hint of its close encounter with the perfect.
and forever thereafter,
God was never the same,
But carried a hint of the passion of the mortal.

If God can lie down in a cattle-trough,
is any object safe from transformation?
If peasant girls can be mothers to God,
Is any life safe from the invasion of the eternal?

If all this could happen, O God,
What places of darkness on our earth
are pregnant with light waiting to be born this night?

If all this could happen, O God,
Then you could be, and are, anywhere, everywhere,
Waiting to be born this night in the most
unbelievable places,
Perhaps even in our own hearts. Amen.

Let it continue to happen in our hearts and our lives.

I wish you all a blessed and joyous Christmas.

Today’s Gospel is the beautiful Magnificat, Mary’s hymn of praise, exclaimed during her visit with her cousin Elizabeth.

Pope Francis once called Mary’s song of praise in the Magnificat “the canticle of the People of God on the journey, and of all men and women who hope in God, in the power of his mercy.”

Mary’s life was not very unlike that of women in thousands of villages as they exist today in Asia, Africa and Latin America.  People lived under the repressive combined rule of the Romans and Herod. Taxes were high, people could barely eke out a living. Most of their day was spent focusing on what they needed just to survive.

Yet despite the oppressive circumstances in which she lived, Mary proclaims a joyful message in her Magnificat: “My soul proclaims the greatness of God.” In the midst of so many terrible things, Mary could say, “My soul proclaims the greatness of God.”

In the Magnificat, Mary sings of the future when peaceful justice will take root in the land among all people. Mary was confident in God. Confident that God is still at work, even in the midst of all of the difficulties. Confident that God would lift up the lowly and set free the oppressed. Confident that God can turn the world upside down; that the last will be first and the first last.

In an Advent 1933 sermon,  Dietrich Bonhoeffer said this:

The song of Mary is the oldest Advent hymn. It is at once the most passionate, the wildest, one might even say the most revolutionary Advent hymn ever sung. This is not the gentle, tender, dreamy Mary whom we sometimes see in paintings; this is the passionate, surrendered, proud, enthusiastic Mary who speaks out here. This song has none of the sweet, nostalgic, or even playful tones of some of our Christmas carols. It is instead a hard, strong, inexorable song about collapsing thrones and humbled lords of this world, about the power of God and the powerlessness of humankind.

Mary’s Magnificat is a message of hope.  The message of hope we need to convey in our world today: The message that God is still at work, even in the midst of all of suffering and difficulties.

O Root of Jesse

Many are doubtless familiar with the “O Antiphons,”  the seven antiphons that are chanted or recited before the Magnificat during Vespers of the Liturgy of the Hours in the Octave before Christmas. (December 17-23). Even those who don’t know them by that name are familiar with them from the song O Come, O Come Emmanuel, each verse of which parallels one of the Antiphons.  They have been part of the liturgical tradition of the Catholic Church since the very early Church.

The antiphon for today, December 19, is

O Root of Jesse, you stand as a sign for the people; before you kings shall keep silence and to you all nations shall have recourse.  Come, save us, and do not delay.

Today’s antiphon recalls the prophesy in Chapter 11 of Isaiah that “a shoot shall sprout from the stump of Jesse, and from his roots a bud shall blossom.” The reference to Jesse is also important because Jesse was the father of King David, and we know from the prophet Micah that the Messiah would be of the house of David.

As we enter these final days before Christmas, we pray with increased intensity, Come Lord Jesus, and do not delay.

P.S.  At a recent Advent retreat, I shared what I think is a beautiful rendition of O Come, O Come Emmanuel.  Here it is:

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