Nativity from Oaxaca, Mexico
Photo provided by: 
Johan van Parys

God is With Us.

One of my favorite activities in preparation for Christmas is the decoration of my house. It has become quite the ritualized activity. At the farmer’s market I carefully select my tree which then is wrapped and tied to the roof of my jeep. Taking side streets I slowly make my way home holding on to the ropes tied around the tree. Then comes the most difficult part: setting up the tree in its stand and making sure it is stable. I also don’t care very much for the placement of the light, yet it is one of these things that needs to be done before the real fun can begin.

As soon as the tree is in place and the lights have been hung it is time to open the Christmas closet. Over the past year, new crèches and Christmas ornaments have been added to the collection and they, together with the one’s I have amassed over the years wait to be rediscovered. I take my time unpacking everything as I recall the history of each ornament and each crèche.  This intentional and careful unpacking of memories is essential to my celebration of the coming holy days. I have a couple of ornaments that were gifted to me by my grandparents and parents, all of whom are now deceased. Handling these allows me to remember them and fills me with gratitude. A set of ornaments was given to me by a friend after he witnessed my tree collapse one fateful Christmas destroying most of the ornaments. Other ornaments remind me of trips I have taken with dear friends. Yet, most important to me is the angel which sits atop the tree. Its story is too long for this article. Feel free to ask me about it when we see one another next.

After I finish the Christmas tree I start setting up the nativity scenes. By now I have collected many from all around the world. Most of them are on display at The Basilica but I do keep some of my favorite ones at home. Setting them up takes time too because I recall the history of each set and most importantly as I place the baby Jesus in the manger I ponder the reason why we do all this: God is with us.

These home activities are treasured by all of us and so are our church activities. Before I even touch my home we decorate The Basilica first for Advent and then for Christmas. This will be the 20th time I celebrate Christmas at The Basilica. Much has changed in our world and in our church over these past 20 years, for better and for worse. But, Christmas at The Basilica remains the same as does the Christmas promise: God is with us.

The Basilica is our home and I ask you to join me in intentionally and carefully unpacking our memories. Let’s treasure fond Basilica moments shared with loved ones. Let’s cherish liturgical highpoints and remember those life-changing moments we experienced in our community. But most importantly let us never forget that at the heart of all of this is Jesus Christ our Savior whose birth we celebrate and whose return we anticipate during this wonderful season. 

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