Holy, Holy, Holy.

There is a sign at the sight of Thee. There is none beside Thee.

This year has been a reckoning, a humbling. Each day and every breath, a reminder of your mercy and our own mortality. This year, we have lived our own Massacre of Innocents. In advance of this holiday, we were informed anew of the cruelty inhabiting Earth and of the compassion it will take to overcome it. In every telling of your origin story, the most improbable point for me has been that a king would slaughter many in an effort to obliterate one, that a man of great might could feel so strangely threatened by children.

I need no longer imagine.

This year, You have been a sickle, gathering unto Yourself those we’ve loved. Though we know there is no better place for them than with you, exulting in this has not been easy. Even as we commemorate God’s infinite love made manifest in You, we, like the parents of Bethlehem, are haunted by loss.

It is our charge, then, as this trying year begins to finally recede, to restore our faith in the Incarnation, to reclaim whatever wonder has slipped from our grasp.

The beauty of your birth must never be blotted by our sorrow. That You have come to us and that You continually pine for the renewal of our faith are gifts whose value cannot be measured. That You are able, morning by morning, to transmute our misery and usher in the kind of love we could no longer imagine, is the reason we rise each year on this holiday and proclaim you holy.

You are what we cannot be.

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Rejoice, Rejoice, Rejoice.

Christmas hasn’t been a favorite holiday of mine since I was a child. It feels claustrophobic and excessive and so, so impossibly gaudy and red. But the pocket of time between 25th to the 1st has always been hallowed for me. I treat it with seriousness and give myself wholly to reflection: on the Nativity; on the subsequent Massacre of the Innocents; on those who go hungry; on the children who have to square their shoulders, lift their chins, puff their chests, and let their eyes become stones, when they awake on Christmas morn to the same bleak cots in a shelter, to the same loss or absence that claimed a parent near some Christmas past; to the same dearth of gifts or of cheer.

Joy does not always come easily to the world these days. And despite our best efforts to tinsel over everything that ails us and others, there are many who cannot forget their struggles through caroling or office holiday parties or heavily spiked punch and nog.

What is so heartening is how vigorously we try. Every year, we volunteer; purchase that extra unwrapped toy to take to the nearest giveaway station; write checks for international causes; give bonuses to civil servants; reconcile with estranged loved ones; make peace with our long-feuding neighbors; light candles and place them in our windows, as if to alert to all who pass by: Cheer is welcome here. Hope is present here.

If you read this blog often, you know well that I am big proponent of hope. And the last week of a year seems to be when mankind is most open to it. We have suspended our cynicism, in preparation for the swell of possibility every countdown to a new year provides. And suddenly, the world’s ills seem solvable. Galvanization seems sustainable. True love seems well within our grasp. And every dream in default is made current.

The New Year is the Great Equalizer. Even for those for whom the holidays feel unbearable, there is a great sense of relief at their coming and going. It means that there is something we can definitively put behind us. It means there is a mystery. For all we know, this is year we will finally feel at home; we will sail the seas; we will find a job; we will beat a repossession, a foreclosure, an eviction; we will graduate; we will marry.

This is the year that will satisfy some large and persistent longing.

For me, the end of the year is about eradicating regret. It’s about our realization and, perhaps, our relief that we come here, to this earth, in part, to falter. It is the only thing that earns us empathy and humbleness. Whatever the next annum will bring, it will certainly include our mistakes. Often, the mistakes–more than any of the things we get right–are what carry us to the next year’s shore, altered, enlightened, matured.

And that, more than lit trees, wrapped gifts, and a cheery array of confections, is worthy of the effort it may take to rejoice.