God Rest Ye Merry, Gentlemen

I confess, I was really worried it wasn't going to work this year. You know, the magic. Somehow, no matter what, every year there comes a moment before Christmas when suddenly my heart lifts and, yes, the joy is there. The hope, the faith, the peace at the thought of the coming of Our Lord. Maybe just for a moment, before it is lost once again in the anxieties of the day-to-day, but always, it has been there, if only for a moment. Until this year. Nothing. Part of the reason that I have been using the past week or so to post Sister Mary of Agreda's description of the novena during which Mary was prepared to become Mother of the LORD is that I was afraid of letting myself write anything else.*

"Bah, humbug," I wanted to write. "I am sick of our secularized society in which we are forced, out of politeness, to wish people 'Happy Holidays,' lest we offend. I want to buy presents, but thanks to all of the decluttering that I've done, all I can see for sale is tat; nothing that I might buy could satisfy this yearning for meaning or love. I don't feel like traveling. I don't feel like eating sweets. Even the decorations and Christmas carols aren't doing it for me, which is frustrating because they always used to. Everything seems so empty and forced. I'm not sure why anybody even bothers, nobody really believes that we are about to celebrate the birth of God, do they? How would I know? I can't even wish them 'Merry Christmas.'"

And so forth, until tonight. When, suddenly, it was finally there. The moment. I've lost it somewhat in writing this post, trying to recapture how dispirited I've been feeling. It's been a stressful couple of weeks, even though my writing has been going incredibly well (see "Brief Regular Sessions" page). My husband is worried about what is going to happen to the staff at the museum where he works; I haven't felt like going to fencing practice much; we are both worried about our finances and how much of our current lifestyle we are going to be able to afford if his situation changes for the worse. It has been hard letting go and just enjoying the season. And then our DSL went out (thanks, AT&T!), just as we were planning on settling in for a weekend of movies and retreat from the world.**

"First World problems," as the saying goes. But First, Second, or Third World, isn't this what everyone longs for, a release from worries about the future? A moment to be thankful just for living in the now? A moment in which the heavens open and joy pours forth as we realize God loves us, indeed, loves us so much that he passed through the veil of the temple into the world to live--and die--as we do, so as to save us from our sins? A moment when time opens into eternity and we can see, if only for a moment, the glories of God and creation as they really are when we are not preoccupied with our everyday woes?

That would be nice, wouldn't it? I think it's what the song means, "God rest ye merry." "God rest ye in the joy of the season. God rest ye in the peace that passes all understanding. God rest ye from the worries and concerns of being in control, trying to plan, trying to make everything turn out right." I wish that I could feel that rest, just for a moment. Feel that everything was going to be okay. That my husband would have a job this time next year. That my book would be mostly written by the time I have to go back to the classroom next fall. That more people than maybe I think actually believe in the birth that we are celebrating tonight. I had it an hour or so ago, briefly, just before I decided to take a shower so that I would be clean for church. I had been rereading the first chapter of The Fellowship of the Ring, losing myself in the old, familiar phrases (I do love Tolkien), happy to have my writing and fiddle practice done for the day, happy not to have any business to take care of until after tomorrow, happy that just for a day--one day--the world might hold still long enough to say, "Thank you," to God.

"God rest ye merry, gentlemen. And ladies, and children, and animals, and plants, and planets, and stars, and all the hosts of heaven. God give you peace and joy at the moment of his birth, as the angels break forth in heavenly praise." Can we say that anymore? Can we believe it, just for a moment?

*Also, I wanted you to have another vision of Mary to take to church this evening, one in which she is the living temple of God, filled with wisdom and understanding, gifted with all of the sciences, adorned with beauty and virtue, and surrounded by angels. Mary may have been young and not yet married when she conceived Our Lord, but we should think carefully why we find it easier (more stirring, more inspiring, more moving) to imagine Mary as an impoverished, possibly malnourished single mother than as the daughter of Anna and Joachim, betrothed of Joseph, who was raised in the temple and chosen as one of seven virgins to weave the fabric of the temple veil, and who, when the angel Gabriel came to her with his glad tidings, was busy spinning the precious purple thread with which the high priest, her Son, would be clothed. Hint, if this is too arcane: it's all in the Protoevangelium of James, about which, among other things, I have been writing this past week.

**Of course, we can still watch DVDs, but, you know, we wanted to stream things we hadn't seen.


  1. "I am sick of our secularized society in which we are forced, out of politeness, to wish people 'Happy Holidays,' lest we offend.

    Do you really believe that you are prevented from wishing people Merry Christmas? Really?

    How about one of these options:

    Option A:-Wish people Merry Christmas. If they respond positively (as 99% of them likely will) then all is well. If they respond negatively, then you can still feel that you acted according to your own conscience. It isn't exactly a martyr's torment and death to do so.

    -Option B:- Why not take it one step farther? Why not say, to everyone you meet, "Merry Christmas! And if you celebrate some other holiday, I *don't* wish you any happiness at all. If you don't celebrate Christmas, then you must not be a Christian, and therefore my God will condemn you to roast in Hell for all eternity! Given these realities, why should I wish you any happiness at all?"

    Option A seems to me the saner one.

  2. Yes, actually, I do worry about offending people. Maybe I shouldn't, but in my neighborhood, at least, it is very hard to gauge how people will take such a greeting. I did a longer post on this question a previous year, which I would link if I could figure out how to from my iPad. Perhaps it is not a martyr's torment to risk offense, but it is a social torment, one which, as an introvert, I find hard to negotiate. Clearly, you were somewhat offended by my anxiety, as your second suggestion hints. No, of course, I do not think that God has condemned everyone who would take offense at my greeting, that would be to presume on the judgment of God, about which I know only as much as you. But if saying "Merry Christmas" were as neutral as you suggest, why can't we say it publically in our shops and schools and streets anymore? Clearly, somebody is taking offense, if only those who make rules about what we can and can't say in the public sphere.

  3. But if saying "Merry Christmas" were as neutral as you suggest, why can't we say it publically in our shops and schools and streets anymore?

    You *can.* I am not aware of a single law on the books in any legislative district that outlaws wishing others "Merry Christmas!" as loudly and as publicly as you like. Nor is there any kind of trend or major news story about persons being harmed for so doing. Stating that you *cannot* wish friends, colleagues, and neighbors a Merry Christmas is both incorrect and rather silly. You are inventing a form of oppression that exists entirely in your head, and then attempting to project it outward onto "our secularized society."

    News flash: we are not secular*ized* -- a construction that suggests we have changed over time and become secular, when we once were not. This nation was founded on two principles (among others) which you seem to want to ignore: separation of Church and State, and the right to Free Speech. You may deplore the former, but it is not new. You seem unwilling to exercise the latter, but then blame others for your mild discomfort around this fact.

  4. Now, now, surely you aren't saying that my feeling uncomfortable is all in my head! Of course it is, that is what worrying about being polite means. I did not say in my post that I felt constrained by laws, only politeness, which has its own rules, regardless of what the legal position of our society may be on the issues. Just because there is not a law about something doesn't mean that there aren't social norms. You seem to be confusing legality with social mores, not me.


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