I am in the midst of “taking down Christmas” and I know I am a few days early. I am leaving the tree where it is until this weekend and the Epiphany on the western calendar, but the rest of the house is being denuded of Christmas. We have to relocate in the next 8-12 weeks and when I decorated for Christmas, I packed away all the things that make our home feel like our home – family photos, momentos, etc. That way, when I take Christmas “down” I will have less to pack up. But it is disconcerting because our home looks “naked” and I am beginning to to stress out about where we will live next. I have absolutely no idea where, or when, we will move. I know it will be during Lent, so perhaps I can offer all the stress to my fasting and my deprivations that help me focus on what is really important – the Liturgical year. I know I have alluded to seasons and calendaring our lives with the Church, but it sure seems to happen, whether I place it on my calendar or not. I think God loves to tease me a little, and keep me on my toes.
We have been at a loss, being tossed and turned, over this move from CA. I remember the disciples, being in a boat on the Sea of Galilee, Our Lord calmly sleeping while they were tossed by the wind and waves. The disciples could not believe how He was able to sleep through it all. And He said to them, “”You of little faith, why are you so afraid?” Then he got up and rebuked the winds and the waves, and it was completely calm. (Mt. 8:26). I keep waiting for some sort of calm to invade our lives, but it seems as though the sort of imagining of a calm sail upon the sea is just not for us. The Lord keeps allowing waves and winds…so I must learn to rest in faith and relax and know that Christ is at the helm and all will be well. “The disciples were amazed. “Who is this man?” they asked. “Even the winds and waves obey him!”” (Mt. 8:27). I also remember that Jesus asked St. Peter to walk across the water to join them. “Lord, if it’s you,” Peter replied, “tell me to come to you on the water.” “Come,” he said. Then Peter got down out of the boat, walked on the water and came toward Jesus. 3 But when he saw the wind, he was afraid and, beginning to sink, cried out, “Lord, save me!” Immediately Jesus reached out his hand and caught him. “You of little faith,” he said, “why did you doubt?” (Mt. 14:28-31). Once again, the disciples doubted Christ and Peter, quite literally, began to sink. This is where we get the saying about “keeping your eye on the prize” and not loosing focus of your goal. In this case, the original example, Peter let his eyes stray to the world around him, took his eyes off Christ, and began to sink. And here I am, all weepy and sinking and I am chastising myself for not having better faith and strength. In an earlier blog that I entitled, “…then nothing can shake us…” I quoted Elder Amphilochios Makris when he said, “We must keep our gaze fixed on heaven. Then nothing here can shake us.” Aren’t we all great at dolling out advice? So hilarious that I need to re-read what I once wrote…it is as though I took my eyes off Christ and am, once again, sinking.
I think we all need reminders, some of them daily, that keep us looking and focusing on what is truly important….the eternal life we are walking towards, sometimes on rough seas, towards Our Lord and Savior. And when we let the cares and worries of this life interfere with our focus on what is really at stake, we start to sink. So I am determined to pack away Christmas and be able to stare at these blank walls, because I know that what is really important are not the boxes of decorations or the photos on the walls….they enhance my experience of daily life, but they are not what motivates me, what moves me. I am blessed. This is only a place, a structure.
I cannot help but identify with the Holy Family on their journey to Egypt, as well as their search for a safe place to raise Our Lord. Herod had slain all those innocents, looking for the Christ Child, and I can only imagine the fear Mary and Joseph felt as they fled with their precious Son. As I take another piece of Christmas and place it on the dining room table, preparing to wrap and box it back up, I am so overcome with sadness, and concern over what is next for us.
“Rest on the Flight into Egypt is a model for the life of the church. We are people of exile. Strangers among the nations. All we carry across the wastelands of this earth is the Christ Child.” [Taken from a blog by Richard Beck (Experimental Theology)]. He goes on to say of this painting, “What I like about Rest on the Flight into Egypt is how it depicts, from the very beginning of his life, the homelessness of the Messiah. God is a refugee, an immigrant, a stranger in a strange land, a person of exile.” And then he says, “The church isn’t a fortress or a gated community or a community of snobbish like-mindedness and self-righteousness. The church is a mission as we live in exile among the nations. Purposely scattered, in jobs and neighborhoods across the world, to work alongside our neighbors to bring peace on earth and good will to all.”
As we pack up and move on, I like to still identify with the homelessness of the Holy Family, their fatigue as they look for a home; their fright as they struggle to protect their son. As Richard Beck says, “And what awaits them at journey’s end? Will they find friends in Egypt? Work? And when will it be safe to go back home? Sitting on the Sphinx, in a striking juxtaposition and lending an exotic touch to the scene, is Mary and the baby. The baby. The only source of light in the painting.”
I plan to keep that Light with me, as we pack and prepare to move on. Some of those questions are our questions, some of those worries are our worries, too. But I know that next Christmas, as I unpack and decorate our new home, I will do so with an encouraged heart and the joy of the season all around me, the Light of Christ with me. Off to pack some more boxes….