As I looked at the stock market this past week, it was not a pretty sight.
It seems to gyrate 5% each day, like a yoyo, only with more downs than ups.
Given the economic uncertainty, this Christmas might be one of the more difficult times to raise the issue of gift-giving and contributing to the needy in our community.
However, despite a predictable belt-tightening, it is more important than ever to reach out to others.
One aspect of the Christmas event is the story of the visit of the Magi. "The sight of the star filled them with delight, and going into the house they saw the child with his mother Mary, and falling to their knees they did him homage. Then, opening their treasures, they offered him gifts of gold, frankincense, and myrrh." (Mt.2:11-12)
The adversity goes well beyond the politics, the violence, and duplicity of Herod, and some of the imagined harshness of the visit is captured in T.S.. Eliot's poem, "Journey of the Magi:"
A cold coming we had of it,
Just the worst time of year
For a journey, and such a long journey:
The ways deep and the weather sharp,
The very dead of winter.
It was tough going for the magi.
At the end we preferred to travel at night,
Sleeping in snatches,
With the voices singing in our ears, saying
That this was all folly.
It must have been harder still for Mary, struggling from Nazareth to Bethlehem with only Joseph to help. It was a lonely beginning leading to a lonely death.
There was a Birth, certainly
We had evidence and no doubt. I had seen birth and death
But had thought they were different; this Birth was
Hard and bitter agony for us, like Death, our death.
The poem not only points to change, death to our old ways but also to both the crib and the cross. For many in Calgary this year, Bethlehem and Calvary seem so closely linked.
There is also a legend about the magi that suggests why we ought to be generous.
According to the legend the Magi were three different ages. Gaspar was a young man, Balthazar in his middle years, and Melchior a senior citizen.
When they approached the cave at Bethlehem, they first went in one at a time. Melchior found an old man like himself with whom he was quickly at home. They spoke together of memory and gratitude. The middle aged Balthazar encountered a teacher of his own years. They talked passionately of leadership and responsibility. When Gaspar entered, a young prophet met him with words of reform and promise.
The three met outside the cave and marvelled at how each had gone in to see a newborn child, but each had met someone of his own years.
They gathered their gifts in their arms and entered together a second time. In the manger on a bed of straw was a child twelve days old.
The legend reminds us that the message of Christmas talks to every stage of the life process. The old hear the call to integrity and wisdom, the middle-aged to generativity and responsibility, the young to identity and intimacy.
Yet when all enter together - the young, middle-aged, and old - we find a deeper truth. No matter where we are in the life process, we are still children of God. We are newborn from the hands of God at every moment. There are many stages in the life of a human person, and each stage presents different struggles and opportunities. Yet at each stage there is a permanent child, there is some one who is dependent upon us. When we go in separately, we know we are in different places and different times. When we go in together, we know that even though we are different we are the same.
There is a new sense of communion. What was divided is now seen to be in a new, life-giving relationship. Communion has replaced separation. The "peace" of the Christmas greeting symbolizes the inclusion of what has been excluded.
Please extend the peace of Christmas and include the needy in the community in your gift-giving this year.
☩ Frederick Henry