the ‘christmas spirit’ ~ on sheet-mulching and incarnation

I realized the other day–a realization that was a bit troubling, actually–that I don’t, this year, feel much in the ‘Christmas spirit.’

last year while in London in December I came upon this 'santa flash mob' in Trafalgar Square

Don’t get me wrong–I’m no ‘Ba Humbug.’ No, it’s not that. It’s just that, well, something has seemed to be missing for me this year. I didn’t even listen to my Christmas music until significantly after Thanksgiving–a patience that has not really ever been successful before.

As I continued to ponder this somewhat unique occurence in my life I began to realize something else–in my attempt to ‘dwell’ during advent (the season preceding Christmas in the Christian calendar) as a way of trying to create space for a bit of ‘being’ amidst what is typically a season of much ‘doing’, I had wound up doing something else as well.

Central Park, in snow. From my first winter on the east coast.

A bit of backstory: for most of the past decade, really, I have had a Christmas season tradition of being in a big city to enjoy the decorations and ambiance of the season. While I was in seminary that big city was New York, which is an incredible place to be for ‘experiencing the Christmas spirit’–from the ice skating rinks in Central Park and Rockefeller Center, with its tall tree and lower level Starbucks serving holiday eggnog lattes, to the wandering in front of store windows, or even a Christmas concert at the Brooklyn Tabernacle, to hear its choir, or a trip to Radio City Music Hall to see the Rockets. Even after seminary I continued to make the December pilgrimage.

Last year, rather than New York, I was able to be in London during December–another fantastic big city experience of the Christmas spirit.

But this December I have spent in the very small town of La Mision, Baja California, which wikipedia says has a population of 920. This has been by choice, as I mentioned. There are no ice skating rinks, though the temperature in my house (with no central heat) could probably sustain one. There are no decorated storefront windows, except for the ‘sponsor a winter outfit for an orphan’ tree in Maganas, a local taqueria. I did get a tree this year–it’s a meyer lemon, and I planted in the ground on the first Sunday of advent. One of my neighbors stealthily hung a beautiful Christmas wreath on my front door, but that’s the only decorative element in the house that gives a hint to the season. I did have an eggnog latte, back when I was in London in mid-November, and though there is a Starbucks 40 miles away in Ensenada I have not been there to see how ‘eggnog latte’ translates into Spanish.

So, it really isn’t surprising, considering the context, that it occured to me that I don’t feel all that much in the Christmas spirit this year.

Except for that it is.

Now, don’t get me wrong–I love enjoying the ‘festivity’ of the season, from lights to decorations to the smell of pine, and the colors of beautifully wrapped gifts. I think it is a fantastic way to enjoy life, family, and celebrate the season.

But, at the end of the day, if I were to try and communicate ‘what is the underlying meaning of Christmas’ or ‘what does Christmas really mean,’ though those things would be in the mix, they would be in a supporting role, not the lead. For me, as a Presbyterian minister (and an ordained evangelist, no less) and a person who is trying to live my life in the way of Jesus, shouldn’t there be some sort of ‘God stuff’ in the mix? It is, arguably, the biggest day of the year in the Christian calendar.

Because what I believe the underlying message of ‘the Christmas spirit’ is about is that, ultimately, God/Spirit/Divine/Source/Breath (they are all just our attempt to put words on something that is unnamable, aren’t they?) is not far off, out there, distant or remote, but rather right here, with us, in our midst, amongst us. The fancy theological word for this is incarnation, which, put simply means, ’embodied in the flesh, or a concrete or actual form of a concept.’

Back to my original pondering, about the Christmas spirit…

The thing is, this advent I haven’t just been sitting around contemplating and watching the clouds go by. And I also haven’t been boycotting the mall and it’s crazy search for that parking place, though I have to admit, it’s a bit of a relief.

yesterday's sunset, looking inland...

What I have been doing is quite a bit of work in the yard–sheet mulching two large areas to prepare the soil and keep out the weeds for what will become the site of spring planting. I’ve been baking bread and pasta and cooking soup. I’ve been spending time with my neighbors. I’ve been reading and learning. I’ve been trying to maintain a mindfulness of beauty by making photographs. I’ve been participating in activities that are trying to help others who are in need.

Incarnation, embodied in the flesh, the actual or concrete form of something.

Something like love? Cultivated in the garden, or expressed in a shared loaf of bread, over a meal, amongst neighbors, and extended to those in need…

Perhaps I’ve been in the Christmas spirit all along. Maybe, in my assumption that it should look a certain way, I just didn’t know how to recognize it.

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