T.S. Eliot begins his well-known poem, “The Journey of the Magi,” with these words:
A cold coming we had of it,
Just the worst time of the year
For a journey, and such a journey:
The ways deep and the weather sharp,
The very dead of winter.
The poem refers to a journey made by the Magi in the story of the Nativity of Christ. The magi, or wise men, made their way towards the Christ-child to offer their gifts and to see the wonder of His birth. In the poem, they are lamenting the journey because it was treacherous, made more difficult by the harsh winter. In fact, the Magi are almost complaining, saying that they don’t even know why they are making this trip.
Often, at this time of year, we hear of another kind of lament about the season and not one that is simply about the weather. Rather, it is a lament that Christmas has lost its fundamental character; that it is no longer about Christ but about presents and parties. It is a lament that the journey to Christmas is too hard. There are too many distractions. It is too commercial. Many of us don’t know exactly why we even bother.
For Christians, perhaps this is the “worst time of year, for such a journey.” The birth of our Lord has been swallowed up in a great storm. It has become overwhelmed in a frenzy of activity which, incredibly, seems to fizzle out into nothingness almost simultaneously with Christ’s birth itself. Christmas is now quite literally in the deadness of human winter. Perhaps it is the worst time of year because most of us Christians are drawn in two opposite directions. We feel compelled to keep pace with the world’s excitement, with the world’s simple greed and inability to wait for anything. And at the same time we are called to wait, to prepare, to make ready to celebrate what is for us one of the greatest mysteries in the universe – God born as a little child.
Maybe Waxahachie is a little more insulated from the forces that want to push Christ out of Christmas. Or maybe we are just as susceptible to confusion and darkness as anyone else in the world. When you drive around our town you do see plenty of “Keep Christ in Christmas” signs and banners. For the most part, there is a great sense of holiday spirit here. But at the same time we must ask ourselves how are we preparing ourselves for this Feast of Christmas? How are we offering light to the world around us which is buried in darkness?
This whole process of preparation and fulfillment is fundamental to any celebration. We can’t celebrate unless we have anticipated what it is we are celebrating. I think of my own experiences growing up and how Christmas always meant a journey to my grandparent’s house. It always meant getting ready, preparing, and feeling a great amount of impatience to get there.
Now that I am older, I have given myself over to traditions that require even more of me. As an Orthodox Christian, and especially as a priest, I am familiar with traditions that work hard to push us to prepare. Nearly 40 days before Christmas the Orthodox services begin to speak ahead of time about the mystery which we are going to celebrate. The time is a time of fasting before we celebrate the feast. This time before Christmas encourages us to pray, to give to the poor, and to prepare ourselves. And on Dec. 25, we Orthodox Christians find ourselves in church, beginning our celebrations with thanksgiving and communion!
It is traditions like these that lift us out of the storm that seems to be raging around us in this “holiday” season and give us a place and way to be still, to be quiet, and to anticipate what is coming.
Christmas itself, the Feast which all of this preparation is leading up to, is then only the beginning of the celebration, and not the end. The 12 days of Christmas don’t come before but after we have arrived at Dec. 25. It is from that point that we carry the joy of the feast with us. It is on our lips and in our hearts. It is from that point that we proclaim to each other and to the world, “Christ is born! Glorify Him!”
Fr. David Bozeman is the priest of St. Nektarios Orthodox Church located at 208 W. Franklin St. in Waxahachie.