The Christmas story is about small things—a little town of Bethlehem, a humble young virgin, a confused carpenter, shepherds who smell like their sheep. And the smallest, of course, is a child born in a manger. But the consequences of these small things reflect the largest of truths—the universal truths of love, peace, mercy, and compassion. In his new book, The Soul of Christmas, Thomas Moore views Christmas as “the prime opportunity to renew the birth of that child” within his own soul. Two events this week helped to renew the birth of Jesus within me.
On Sunday night in south central Los Angeles, I joined Father Dave Matz and more than a hundred acolytes, servers, children, youth, parents and grandparents from St. Agnes Parish in the annual Posada. We gathered in the parish parking lot and then processed down the sidewalk along the busy Vermont Street. Four young men from the youth group carrying the manger scene led us in the procession. Many of the children and the elderly carried tambourines or other instruments to make joyful noise. Others carried and waved Christmas decorations that sparkled under the street lights. We walked slowly, singing songs and celebrating this annual tradition that goes on for nine days. At Saint Agnes, each of the nine nights of the Las Posadas is led by a different group from the parish and commemorates the journey of Mary and Joseph looking for lodging as Mary prepares to give birth to Jesus.
After walking several blocks, we stopped in front of a house where we sang more songs and more prayers were said. And then the family who lived in the house welcomed us through the gate and led us to the backyard that was illuminated with Christmas lights and decorations. We concluded with the ritual with more prayers and songs, followed by a festive meal of tamales and enchiladas. The presence of so many children whose eyes and smiles radiated such wonder and joy would awaken the child in the oldest or coldest codger.
The second event that renewed the spirit of the Christ child in me was on Wednesday night, December 21, at Precious Blood Renewal Center in Liberty. More than fifty people gathered to celebrate the Winter Solstice by reflecting on images of light on the darkest night of the year, and to walk the reconciliation labyrinth. We started our evening in Schaefer Mission House where I reflected on the winter solstice as a time for transcendence and transformation. As part of our Litany of Light, I invited each of us to hold in our hearts a personal intention where transformation is needed in our lives; where we long for the light of Christ to scatter the darkness of doom or despair. Following our prayer, each person lit a candle to symbolize his or her intention, and we began our pilgrimage to the reconciliation labyrinth.
Luminaries guarded the path to the labyrinth to guide our journey and encircled our destination. One by one, we arrived and walked the circular pattern of the labyrinth, holding our intention and our candle. Slowly, prayerfully, we arrived at the center of the labyrinth where a blazing fire warmed us, illuminating our faces and beckoning us to believe in this sacred space that the intention for transformation in ourselves, in a relationship, in our family, community, society, nation, or world we were carrying in our hearts would begin.
After each pilgrim completed his or her journey to the center of the labyrinth and spent time in silent prayer, we returned to the center building where a simple meal of soups, bread, and fruit awaited us. Both the center’s dining room and circle room were filled with folks gathered around tables, sharing soulful conversation and stories of the journey. Old friendships were renewed and several new friendships were forged in this celebration of light on the longest night of the year.
Both the Las Posadas in Los Angeles and the Winter Solstice Celebration of Light and Labyrinth Walk in Liberty reflected how “Christmas is the prime opportunity to renew the birth of Jesus with his new vision of humanity in myself,” Thomas Moore writes. “The vision is born in me once again…and I am ready to live a life that is a challenge to the way of the world with its self-interest, excessive aggression and failure to heal.” These were not sentimental strolls down memory lane but rather “a celebration of the Jesus vision” that Christmas conveys which calls for a radical transformation. As Moore writes, “The child lying in the manger would become the most radical of all spiritual visionaries, showing us how to live more joyfully and communally.”
These two events in Los Angeles and Liberty, small in the larger scope of world events, awakened the Christmas spirit in me. I am grateful to the people of St. Agnes and the staff at Precious Blood Renewal Center for their extraordinary efforts in preparing and carrying out these two sacred traditions to renew the spirit of hope and peace in me and so many others. May this season that reveals large truths in small moments of grace awaken the child, the Way, the Truth, and the Life, in all of our souls.
So, my friends, I pray you and your loved ones “have yourself a merry little Christmas” and “let your hearts be light.” As you “hang a shining star upon the highest bough…have yourself a merry little Christmas now.”
With peace in the Blood of Christ,
Joe Nassal, C.PP.S.