Wordless Trees

At breakfast one morning this past week, I overheard my nine-year-old granddaughter mention she would be auditioning for a Christmas pageant in her school that afternoon. Officious grandparent that I am, I promptly volunteered advice on elocution and the importance of diction, projection, volume, et cetera. Respectfully, and with scarcely concealed annoyance, this budding thespian interrupted my unsolicited consultation and said: “Pop, I’m going to be a tree!”

Her response got me thinking.

How easily we jump to conclusions and accept as valid the understandings we arrive at without sufficient reflection. Often it is because we don’t have all the facts; more often though it is because we don’t hold the facts in proper balance, emphasizing the significance of some while ignoring the significance of others.

For Christians, this season of Advent provides an example of how out of balance our understanding can become. I am not here writing about the challenge we face in our increasingly secularized society to “keep Christ in Christmas.” I assume readers of this column observe the sacred nature of the Feast of the Nativity and need not be reminded of the importance of doing so. Rather, I am addressing our normal tendency to get caught up in the beautiful and emotional trappings of the Christmas story without adequate (or any) consideration of the event’s history-shattering consequence

Irresistibly alluring to be sure are the accounts of the star of wonder, the angels singing, the magi kneeling, the babe lying in the manger, and the calm courage exhibited by the young mother. Who would dispute the romance that has flourished over the centuries from those few seeds planted in the Matthean and Lucan infancy narratives? Whether we give credence to the story or not, even the hardest hearted post-modern among us would not be unmoved by its message of love and peace on earth.

But, underlying this perennially celebrated story is an astounding reality: God becomes man! Eternity impregnates time. Chronos yields to Kairos. In the ‘fullness of time’ the prophecies of the ancients come to fruition and mankind – once enshrouded in the web of sin (Isaiah) and the finality of death – receives an astonishing gift, a gift as precious as life itself for it restores life: the gift of hope.

Christmas is not a time for retrospective nostalgia. It is a time for looking forward, for rekindling and experiencing the ‘present joy of the coming fulfillment.’ As a consequence of that long promised birth in Bethlehem, all of creation now ‘groans’ (St.Paul) in anticipation. In Christmas pageants or not even wordless trees respond eloquently with hymns of expectation.

On behalf of the trustees of the National Catholic Community Foundation, I extend our sincerest wishes for a healthy, happy and hope-filled Christmastide.

Dana Robinson is chair of the Board of Trustees of the National Catholic Community Foundation.


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