One of my favorite Christmas songs is “Only at Christmas Time” by Sufjan Stevens. Unless you are a Sufjan fan, it’s probably new to you. I think I love it so much because it centers on what is important … Jesus comes to bring us peace, to bring us joy. God with us. Emmanuel. Such love.
About ten years ago I began a personal Christmas tradition of taking a long solitary walk on Christmas Eve morning. That first walk was very special and played a key role in my discernment to become a Sister of St. Joseph of Peace. Not every Christmas Eve morning walk has been quite so profound since, but each one has held its own special blessings.
Last year, for example, I went for a walk in the forest on fresh new snow! (You can watch the video prayer I made from pictures taken on that walk.) It was spectacular to celebrate the incarnation in the midst of God’s wondrous creation.
This year I went for a soggy walk in the rain in my Chicago neighborhood.
I found myself praying with the Gospel reading from this morning (Luke 1: 67-79) which is actually the Canticle of Zechariah which the church prays daily as part of morning prayer. As hinted at by the title of this post, my footsteps especially echoed the last lines:
In the tender compassion of our God the dawn from on high shall break upon us to shine on those who dwell in darkness and the shadow of death, and to guide our feet into the way of peace.
I walked through this tunnel, as I often do, on my way to the lake. This morning as I approached the tunnel, I saw two gentleman having a conversation. One was holding a black garbage back and pointing to the litter in the park. He handed the trash bag to the other man, told him there were plastic gloves inside, and that this was as good a place as any to start. I was intrigued, but I kept going on my walk to the lake.
On my way out of the tunnel heading home, I spotted the one man who had been given the trash bag and gloves. Sure enough, he was wandering through the park, in the rain, spotting trash and putting it in the bag. I found myself thinking, “What a lovely gift for Christmas, cleaning up the park.” As I rounded the corner to cross the street, the man was within speaking distance. I wished him a Merry Christmas and asked what he was up to. It turns out, he’s down on his luck and trying to raise some money to go visit his son for Christmas. The other man was paying him to clean up the little patch of park. Again …. in the rain. Given that I had been praying for the tender compassion of God to break upon us, I of course gave him a little contribution myself.
How wonderful to celebrate the gift of the incarnation in the midst of God’s wondrous creation.
As I turn off the computer and get ready to head off to spend this day with my own father, I hold this man and his family especially in my prayers.
And I pray for all of us, that we may indeed welcome the prince of peace by stepping onto the path of peace. In our hearts. In our families. In our cities. In our world.