success stories

Posted October 27, 2003

The 365 Days of Christmas: Keeping the Wonder of it All Ever Green
Author: William J. Byron, S.J.
Wipf and Stock Publishers, Eugene, Oregon, pp. 96

Excerpt from Introduction:

Although Christmas comes but once a year, it doesn’t have to go away. The Christmas spirit, once grasped, can be, quite literally, the “gift that goes on giving.” An understanding of the deeper meaning of Christmas can stretch around the clock and across the calendar for a full twelve months, for three hundred and sixty-five days of difference in the life of any believer. The problem, of course, is how to plant within oneself the deeper meaning of Christmas.

This book helps to address that problem. The planting starts at Christmastime. If the roots sink in, the spirit of Christmas can remain, green and growing, all year long.

Curious, isn’t it, that the typical Christmas tree has no roots. It is cut fresh, decorated brightly, placed on a stand, and left to dry out slowly in just a couple of weeks. Christmas trees are expensive an beautiful, but they just don’t last. That is exactly what happens in the minds of millions who pack away the meaning and memory of Christmas with the ornaments every year. They remain unopened for fifty weeks. If, however, the meaning of it is planted in the soul, in the ongoing life of the mind, there is a difference. The Christmas spirit, like a deeply rooted Christmas tree, can flourish, without the tinsel, all year long.

These reflections are assembled here for remembrance and reflection on the part of those who love the Christmas story and want not only to hear it anew each December, but to ponder its implications throughout the year. This book is smaller than most books and larger than more Christmas cards. It fits comfortably in the in-between places, like coat pockets and Christmas stockings, and can be opened in those in-between times from January to November. It can bring Christmas to July and fill quiet moments with Christmas thoughts in every season of the year.

These musings emerged from my own Christmas-season reflection, prayer, preaching, and academic scribbling. They are intended to enhance the year-round meditative moments of contemporary Christians, who might be ready at any time to catch a glimpse of the deeper meaning of it all.

Excerpt from Book:

Light and Darkness

Stirring words from the great prophet Isaiah ring out in song and solemn proclamation across the Christian world throughout Advent and the Christmas season.

“The people who walked in darkness
have seen a great light;
Upon those who dwelt in the land of gloom
a light has shone (Is 9:1)”

Regrettably, those who hear these ancient words today can regard one another now, centuries after these and all the other words of Isaiah were spoken, as fellow dwellers in the land of gloom. The human condition, we are tempted to say, has not changed all that much over twenty centuries of war, and want, and selfish disregard for the rights and needs of others. But Christ’s birth has changed the human condition, we know; it is just that the supporting evidence for this assertion of Christmas faith is rather had to find. All the more reason, then, to reflect anew on the power of Christmas — a power that disperses darkness and gloom. This reflection is needed, I think, if perspective is to be achieved, balance maintained, and hope restored in our age of ambiguity.

Isaiah spoke of a “people who walked in darkness.” His phrase is fairly descriptive of humanity without Christ, who is, of course, the light of the world. The prophet described those people as “dwelling in the land of gloom.” Christian tradition has repeated these prophetic expressions down through the ages for the precise purpose of celebrating the dispersal of darkness and the lifting of gloom by the coming of Christ who is forever our light and joy. And yet the reality of darkness and gloom somehow persists in us, and around us, so that for some of us the Christmas celebration has a hollow ring; it is somewhat forced and unconvincing.

Every Christmas is celebrated in an “anno Domini,” a “year of Our Lord.” How can the Lord’s year, any year, be a year of gloom? Jesus is Lord, but never a Lord of gloom! Quite the opposite. Under his lordship, gloom is destroyed forever and a joyous peace is available to all who believe. Perhaps that gloom — undeniably present in so many human hearts, in different circumstances, places and periods of history — is a measure of our distance, as a people, from him. To be a dweller in the land of gloom is to refuse somehow submission to his loving lordship. That submission is not easy.

Say to say, on any Christmas you can look around and see suffering and death, violence and decay, fear and anxiety, hatred and injury. You can see broken promises and smashed hopes. There is reason enough to feel gloomy on ChristmasDay or on any of the other 364 days of Christmas.

But you also see around you goodness and love, generosity and trust, service and life, hope and faith. You see covenants kept and you see fidelity in all its forms at work to keep the human community on course. Modern men and women have cause to claim a peace that is not complacent, a joy that is not naive. To the extent that this is explainable, the explanation lies in the power of Christmas.

Power in any circumstance is the ability to cause or prevent change. God’s power has changed us. The human race once walked in darkness; we now have access to the light. But we too have power. Each human person is powerful enough to resist the change from darkness to light. “And this is the verdict, that the light came into the world, but people preferred darkness to light, because their works were evil.” (Jn 3:19). When the human person is powerful with a power that is not of God, he or she condemns himself or herself to walk in darkness. But when empowered by faith and divine love, the human person can disperse the darkness and lift the gloom. . . .

Table of Contents:

1. “In the Beginnng”
2. The sacred things — a Christmas list
3. “A gift is when you get something you don’t deserve”
4. Peanuts, emeralds, and the art of giving
5. Christmas is reduction to zero
6. Light and darkness
7. A Christmas parallelogram
8. Insights for a Christian meditation
9. Listen to the whispers
10. Two sides of Christmas — the severe and the beautiful
11. Family
12. Many and the other Madonna
13. “Cast out our sin and enter i”
14. Epiphany