A week before Christmas, and all around us are the trappings of the season: twinkling lights on rooftops and Santas on lawns, irritated drivers and frantic shoppers, ubiquitous Christmas music seeping out of speakers everywhere from coffeeshops to mall parking lots. Just call me stubborn, but it always takes me some time to get into the spirit of Christmas. It doesn’t help that the season is thrust on us well before Halloween.
This year I avoided Christmas as long as I could. I have boxes of ornaments and decorations stacked in the garage from years past, but I decided to do something different. I put up a tabletop Christmas tree with clear lights, filled its branches with white doves, and set a silver star at the top. I call it my peace tree, and every morning when I rise — usually while it’s still dark, I turn on the lights and I am reminded to pray for peace in our world–in Iraq, in Israel and Palestine, in Darfur . . . oh my, the list goes on. And I pray for families here and around the world who have so little, who live in constant fear of attack because of war or political injustice. I pray for those I know by name in war-torn areas. Such as Fr. Andrew White, an Anglican priest from England, who at great risk to his own life, pastors a church in Baghdad. His shrinking congregation is made up of women and children because most of the men have been killed. He has MS, yet he is giving his life to those he shepherds. And I pray for those people in our country, in my community, who live in poverty. Many live on the streets, unsafe and cold, not knowing where their next meal is coming from. Some are mentally ill. Some are children.
I can’t pray beside my little peace tree without think about the prayer of St. Francis of Assisi: Lord, make me an instrument of your peace . . .
I can’t pray beside my little peace tree without considering how I can be that instrument. What can I do to make a difference, when the need is so great?
I can’t pray beside my little peace tree without thinking about the over-the-top consumerism in our culture: false values that fly at us like reindeer on speed, without thinking about how I get caught up in the “wants” versus “needs,” and too often coming down on the side of “wants.” It’s too easy. Yet when I think about the heartbreaking conditions of the poor around the world, I want to weep because of my own insensitivity.
A few days ago I put out my creche, which besides my peace tree, is the only other Christmas “decoration” in our home. My mother handpainted the nativity figures when I was a child, and it’s been a special treasure through the years. I hid a tiny cross in the manger, a tradition begun by St. Fransis of Assisi. Such a simple tradition, yet to me this year, it’s one of the most precious reminders of why this Child came into this war torn, troubled world: not as a King, but as a Savior.
Sacrifice. Not a word we associate with Christmas in this season of giving and receiving. Yet, when I think about it, isn’t that what the heart of Christ’s message was all about? I have to ask myself what will I sacrifice this year, this week before Christmas, this day, that will bring peace to one child or one family. Mother Teresa was once asked how she could go on with her work when the need was so great. “One child at a time,” she replied.
Peace comes with a price. What will I give of myself that just might make a difference in one life this week, in one life this new year?