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This was a fun thread—a Muslim anthropologically observes his roommates coping with Christmas (and gets into the spirit of the thing himself). They decorate a tree, and work on the menu, and argue about whether or not you can stuff your own stocking. As usual, many tweeters came on to correct this person for his inarguably prescient reflection on the way Americans approach this holiday, plus some obligatory accusations of anti-Semitism, and the backlash of people congratulating him for being right and encouraging him to ignore the haters. Honestly, the comments are peak 2020.

And so was me beating down the crowds out shopping yesterday. With a thousand feet of snow being carted out in big trucks, none of us were supposed to go anywhere, but we all did anyway. I use the word “all” in a technical sense, because it really did seem like the entire state of New York was trying to fit itself into the Vestal TJ Maxx all at the same time. I languished in a long line behind someone with a cart heaped high with clothes and shoes. She rummaged through it as we moved in our glacial way towards the register, taking things out and sending them away with the person in line with her, adding other items from the jumbled and over-stuffed checkout labyrinth, changing her mind again and again. I tried to keep well back while also peering at what she was putting in and taking out. Frankly, I like a mask because I’m able to hide my morbid curiosity in the name of covid. Another year and she would have been able to see me trying to see her.

“Arise, O Lord, and go to your resting place! You and the ark of your might!” cries the Psalmist this morning.

“This is my resting place forever,” the Lord responds, “here will I dwell, for I have desired it.”

It’s a lovely pairing with the Annunciation in Luke, the traditional reading for the last Sunday of Advent. I particularly like it because, once Mary got the shocking news, I imagine the last word she would have used to describe her life would have been “restful.” On the contrary, she got right up and went on a journey—something all of us might envy this year when we can’t go anywhere—and then when she came home again it was to revilement and shame, and then, when she was heavily pregnant, she had to travel again, and then flee to Egypt, and then back to Nazareth, and then, of course, her son grew up and complicated her life and ours by overturning the order of everything.

Anyone who says to Jesus, like Mary, “let it be to me according to your will” is in for an uneasy life full of things being given and then taken away, of being moved from one place to another, of being disdained and misunderstood.

One of the reasons I try to tell myself that I “like” the intense and chaotic lead-up to Christmas is that it is always a good metaphor for the whole Christian life. Like I am always standing in a long queue, balancing piles of weird objects (or relationships, or troubles, or jobs) longing for some rest. A far off I can see hope, but in the middle of the wait, exhausted by all the stuff I’m trying to carry, overheated and stressed, I wonder if I will be able to endure, or if I will collapse before I reach the finish line.

In the middle of this, God arises to go to his “resting place,” the place he desires to go—first to Mary’s womb, then into the very jumbled and complicated heart of every believer. I guess “resting place” shouldn’t be in scare quotes. God doesn’t need to rest—not like I do—but he himself chose the word, and the image, and the reality. He came here because none of us could rest, nor can. He came into the middle of it all, his great resting presence settling the most beleaguered wanderer with the weight of his own desire.

In this way, though there is no outward difference between me in the line at TJ Maxx and anyone else shoving piles of stuff under slowly dying Christmas trees, yet there is for me some strange, deep alien peace, some knowledge that at the end of the road some shock of joy is waiting.

Secular or Christian, every celebration at this time of year calls out in longing for that rest, that joy. The heaps of stuff in the store and under the tree hearken to the still quiet of God’s own peace. We don’t know what we want. We don’t know where we are going. We don’t know how to get there. And so God arose and came with his most perfect rest, his most lavish desire–not just observing us, wondering how we will make out–but getting right into the spirit of the thing.

And now to church where I’ll be able to sit for a minute or two before running around like a crazy person for the rest of the week.

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