It is freezing today. Thick snow covers our backyard, and in the hazy darkness of the morning I can see sparrows flock to the birdfeeder. I have to get up an hour earlier because of the icy roads.
When we finally leave the warmth and safety of home, we drive gingerly, watching for patches of black ice and keeping a distance from fellow travellers. During snowstorms, streets are desolate and empty. So are many churches.
Not so the malls, those present-day temples where the old and young worship avidly. The malls are filled with shoppers, pressured to do their duty and buy "holiday gifts."
No one is publicly even mentioning Christmas, no religious Christmas cards are available in the mainline card stores, no Nativity sets decorate store windows except – and not always – the Goodwill or Value Village. You may buy a real Christmas card in a Dollarama sometimes, too.
'A shoot shall come out from the stump of Jesse.'
Isn't it characteristic that God, who chose to be born as a child in a poor family and a stable, is still acknowledged publicly only by the places that belong to the poor? I sometimes wonder where are we, all of us Catholics who fill the many churches in Alberta? Why are we invisible?
Are there penalties imposed upon those who exhibit a Nativity set in a privately owned store's window? Will I be fired from work if I have a small Nativity set on my desk or paste a Nativity Christmas card on my office door?
Will my taxes be doubled if, instead of a wobbly, inflatable Santa or two pre-lit reindeer, I set up a Nativity scene outside my house? By the way, does anyone know where I can purchase such a scene, though – if no one is producing them?
Faith requires, and always has, some form of public demonstration. It is fair to tell the others: "This is who I am," "these are the symbols of values I embrace," "I believe."
Where are our crucifixes or medallions with Mary's image that used to be worn on every Catholic's neck?
Or, have we bought into the devious thinking that we must be invisible, retreat, go into hiding? If so, let's follow the example of the Muslim women who wear hijabs as a sign of their faith or the Sikhs who wear turbans.
We have many traditionally dressed female Muslim students at MacEwan University, and I always look at them with great respect. It is not easy to show your faith in a secular society, to wear a long black dress and a veil when other girls in class wear minis or slacks and can let wind ruffle their hair.
When you are young and when you are an immigrant, you have a great need to belong, to be like the others in this new country. It takes a lot of courage to make a proclamation of your faith with visible symbols.
Christmas, since it has been accepted for centuries in the West, is the easiest time to begin to build up this type of courage among us Christians.
Yes, it is the time of giving, it is the time to embrace the lonely, the hungry and the poor. But it is also the time to tell the world why we do it, who it is that dwells in the poor, the hungry and the sad.
A Nativity set or a religious Christmas card, a crucifix on your neck is evangelization without words. It is also good to remember that Christians daily die around the world for the sign of the cross. Why are we, who live in a free country, shy to wear it?
If a visitor from another planet descended upon Earth in December in say, West Edmonton Mall, he or she would never learn that we are preparing to celebrate the anniversary of the most amazing event in human history - the virgin birth of omnipotent God, the Creator of the universe (and all life within it) as a human, weak baby.
Angels knelt before the crib with Jesus. Do you think the extra-terrestials would know? The whole universe celebrates Christmas.
If we manage to shake off the secular thinking even for a spell, we will understand the prophet's words: "On that day, a shoot shall sprout from the stump of Jesse, and from his roots a bud shall blossom."
"A bud will blossom," despite the snow and ice, despite our lukewarm hearts, our confused thinking, our spiritual poverty and we will be saved.