A special energy runs through town this time of year, as it does most places.

Local grocery stores have yule logs on display, and cheery red and white poinsettias line shelves at local florist shops. It’s getting late in the season - so says the world - so the forested tree lots have become prairie-like again after a flurry of activity. In some stores, empty shelves remember toys carried away by parents and grandparents alike.

Families, including ours, find special ways to mark the season.

We take our kids Christmas-light looking every year. The city’s beautiful lights downtown add a joyful ambience. The decorated homes and outdoor festivities brighten the darkness, and hint at something greater. The live nativity at St. Stephen’s gives the night an anchor. 

Back home, the tree in the living room testifies to happiness and love, the ever-green mystically emblematic of the promise of life in the dead of winter.

We sing. With neighbors, in the car, and on social media. Do you?

These acts and others like them have become tradition for many in America. They’ve sunk deep roots in our culture, yet like all habits, run the risk of losing meaning in repetition.

It’s not a new problem, but lately, it feels more acute.

We are a tired people, after these long 20 months. If ever we, each one of us, needed to find a source of truth, hope, renewal, and unity, that time would be now.

For all the evil brought by the pandemic, the latest variant, Omicron (an apt name for the arch-villain of the Covid story) threatens to divide us further. 

If we risk becoming Scrooge, we should recall his nephew’s sound advice.

Fred, the bedtrodden hero in Charles Dicken’s “A Christmas Carol,” famously reminds Scrooge that Christmastime is good, kind, pleasant - even a time for forgiveness. Yet above all, he says, these things are “apart from the veneration due to its sacred name and origin.” 

There. That’s the key bit.

Glossy ads and fantastic deals have seduced us into forgetting that the word “Christmas” is a sacred name. An occasion to which Fred says we owe veneration, not just celebration.  Christ’s Mass. A church service. As with “the holidays” (holy + days), tradition and mass marketing obscure it’s true meaning. 

We can begin at home. From a recognition of the Divine in each person. After all, who are we on Christmas morning, in the pageant of giving and then receiving? We are kings, yes, bearing gifts of love. And in the receiving, we stand in for something greater. 

Before, or maybe after, we can go places. Sure, to be with family. But the true font of healing and hope can be found somewhere else. 

Take a look through the pages of this paper. The notices are here. Find a church that focuses on veneration. Go there, and you’ll find the source of that energy running through our town lately. 

 

Shane Hoefer lives in White Bear Lake with his family, and is active in the nonprofit and faith communities of the area.

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