Why do we love this season?
I would suggest that aesthetics have much to do with the answer to that question. Advent and Christmas are made sensible to us by means of the things we see, hear, smell, taste, and touch at this time of year.
Spiritual truth comes out of the closet of the abstract and makes itself real to us through our bodily experiences during the holidays.
God in heaven becomes incarnate in Bethlehem.
We shiver at the chill. And grow warm by the fire.
We smell the pungent dung of the stable. And fragrant bows from the pine.
The song of the angels fills our ears. And the voices of children.
Our gaze is transfixed upon a newborn Baby.
We relish the special feasts we share with one another, as the Baby suckles his Mother’s breast.
Gifts are exchanged, hand to hand, paper ripped open and flung aside amid squeals of delight and smiles, tears, hugs, acknowledged later with handwritten thank-you notes.
It is not simply the Christmas “spirit” but the lived experiences of Christmas that we treasure.
All of our traditions and practices, the idiosyncratic celebrations of our families, and the special events in our churches and schools and communities take place in space and time in the lives of boys and girls and men and women of flesh and blood who hold up their candles in the darkness and await the moment when “the dawn from on high will break upon us.”
Enough for Him, whom cherubim, worship night and day,
Breastful of milk, and a mangerful of hay;
Enough for Him, whom angels fall before,
The ox and ass and camel which adore.
Angels and archangels may have gathered there,
Cherubim and seraphim thronged the air;
But His mother only, in her maiden bliss,
Worshipped the beloved with a kiss.
– Christina Rosetti
Hear this marvelous testimony from Eric Gill. Don’t get sidetracked and focus only on the specific path he chose (Catholicism), but hear the larger message he brings:
I became a Catholic because I fell in love with the truth. And love is an experience. I saw. I heard. I felt. I tasted. I touched. And that is what lovers do.
Oh, that we, in all our faith traditions, might learn this. There is no “spiritual” faith. What God has given us is bodies, by which we receive his gifts. The path leads from the outside in, and not vice versa. To reach our hearts, he took on flesh.
We instinctively know this at Christmas. My prayer is that we will know it in all the gracious seasons of life.