My very most spiritual Christmas experience happened in May more than two decades ago on a pilgrimage to the Holy Land with five friends from church. Despite Palestinian-Israeli unrest nearby, we were blessed with an occasion of wonder, mystery, and joy in Bethlehem. Inside the Church of the Nativity, we climbed down a narrow stairwell to a small, dimly lit, basement area—it reminded me of a grotto—with a silver star on the floor marking the traditional place of Jesus’ birth. Eyes shut after a minute of taking in the sight, I stood back against a wall like a sardine in a can. Suddenly, in the dark stillness, someone began to softly hum “Away in a Manger,” followed by “O Little Town of Bethlehem.” Pretty soon others, including my friends and me, joined in. The solemn feeling continued with other carols like “Gloria in Excelsis Deo” and “Joy to the World” for perhaps 10 or 12 minutes. A capella. Adagio. Pianissimo. In the darkness, the joined voices were as one, expressing tenderness, faith, wonder, and gratitude. In those sacred moments, the miracle of the Incarnation penetrated my being, touched my soul, and left an indelible blessing on my heart.
Today this memory of being awash in God’s love and pleasure resurfaced after my morning readings about the Third Day of Christmas and the Apostle John, “the one whom Jesus loved,” the one to whom he entrusted his mother, and whom he entrusted to his mother in a parting moment on the cross. The one who outran Peter to the tomb. The one who reclined with him at table. Called first with his brother James, the one who most probably lived the longest. The one attributed with sending forth the message that God so loved the world that he gave his only begotten son, that whosoever believed in him would not perish but have life everlasting. ~John 3:16.
The point for me today is to remember that God loves us in ways too mysterious to understand only with our heads.
Suggested actions to get this message from the head to the heart are these:
- Meditate on the first word of 1 John 1:1: “Beloved.”
- Slowly pray Psalm 63:1-7, a psalm of David when he was in the desert:
Source: Bible Hub, citing the New American Standard Bible
- Hum a favorite Christmas carol softly and with feeling! Let your singing be a form of praise and creative expression, Spirit and Creativity joined together.