Only 34 shopping days until Christmas as they say. After Thanksgiving passes by this Thursday, we will no doubt see the same frantic and restless crowds packing in the stores beginning Friday morning trying to take advantage of sales on the largest purchasing weekend of the year. Perhaps mine will be just another perennial reminder (to go along with the perennial frenzy) that materialism (or simply the accumulation of material goods is not the key to happiness). However, given that we also tend to remind ourselves about this time of year that ever-present in our midst are the poor, the disenfranchised, the homeless and hungry. Is it not, some will rebut, precisely material goods which these same people need? Should we not give bread to the child who even yet in “the greatest country on earth” somehow manages to not have eaten a decent meal in last week? Can I not spare a coat for the man who unlike myself has no choice but take shelter on the ventilation grate on the street as it’s the only place with warm air where he can sleep tonight? Yes! Resoundingly, yes we should do all these things.
But I’d like to focus on another more pressing issue that is at the same time a wonderful significance bound up with the restless shopping – love. That’s right – love! Let’s look behind the material veil of this activity and toward the root motivation. We could easily over-analyze the psychosocial underpinnings of Christmas shopping but even if the expression falls short, what is broadly true is that our family members are simply trying to show their love for each other and for us by means of gifts. We all want to love, to show it. Equally, we all want to be loved, and to be love infinitely. What is marvelous about Christmas is that Love himself came down from heaven and loving us infinitely became one of us. The Christ child came and shared our joys and our pains and showed us how intimately he knows us and, offering his life for us, shared this intimacy mutually. However, even this gracious act, which is the point of the Nativity of the Lord Jesus come-in-the-flesh, only foreshadows the ultimate aim of love for which we all long – to be one with the one whom we love bound up in boundless perfect union. Thus as Saint Augustine in the 4th century so often quoted says in his Confessions: “You have made us for yourself and our hearts are restless until they rest in you.” (Bk 1.1.1)
This would be a great read by the way over the next few weeks as we close in on the beginning of the Christmas season…which starts, not ends, on Christmas Eve. You can find a free version of it here – consider it my gift to you!
In any case God has made us for love (i.e. for his very self which is Love) and even our desire to love and be loved comes from him. In the preamble just before the above quote, Augustine says “tu excitas ut laudare te delectet”: You stir [me] so that I might delight in praising you. As another gift to you dear reader, if you want to read Augustine’s Confessions in the original latin with great commentary, I refer you to a well organized webpage edited by J.J. O’Donnell at Georgetown University.
If you feel like expressing some of that restless love, I encourage you spend some time in prayer, and thank the Lord for his love for you and for the desire for love he has put in your heart. And if that love overflows, you could always send me a copy of the album!