I love Mardi Gras. Now I know it’s Christmas Eve, and I’ll get there, but I need to make a point. Having lived in New Orleans for four years I fell in love with Mardi Gras, especially the parades. There is an incredible ritual around the parades. As the people begin to line the streets in anticipation, you can feel the controlled chaos in the air. Once the parade begins you become a different person in a different space. You are on the cusp of something. People you never would have interacted with become your temporary best friends. You share with strangers, and scream for plastic toys, cups, and beads. There is a freeing disorientation. And you stay in this space for the whole of the parade, and possibly even for the weeks leading up to Mardi Gras.
Victor Turner and Clifford Geertz, both of whom are symbolic cultural anthropologists, would call this time “liminal.” It is an in between stage in the ritual process, you are held on the threshold, in between two realities and a sacred space full of ambiguities is created. If done correctly, you are made anew after you go through this liminal phase. In the same way as Mardi Gras, but in a more profound way we find this same reality in the Vigil of the Nativity of the Lord, Christmas Eve. We have had our preliminal phase, Advent. We have prepared for the coming of the Lord, made straight the paths, and repented. We try and leave some things behind to make room for the Lord. And then we find ourselves here, in this in-between place and time, Vigil.
The Church, coming from the seed-bed of Judaism, inherited the practice of vigil. In the Jewish practice of marking time the day began at sunset. The Church has held onto this practice. And there is a wisdom here, the Lord whom we worship cannot be forced to fit into a single day. So we enter a period of intentional sleeplessness and devotion to await the coming of the Lord. And so we begin to contemplate, celebrate, and worship the miracle of the Incarnation in this liminal moment. We find ourselves in Vigil, awake and actively waiting for the fulfillment of the prophecies of the Old Testament.
This liminal space is a beautiful time to pray and actively wait on the Lord. This in-between place is the place to meet our Lord. I remember being on a retreat once and realizing that Christ the King of the Universe was the same as the Christ Child, which is pretty obvious, but hard to reconcile. I realized that this fully human (and fully God) child was born, feeble and in need of his Holy Mother. That child is the Savior of the world, and all things were created through Him. There is an in-between space between the child born in Bethlehem, and the Cosmic Christ, where we find ourselves. So we must stay in vigil. Especially now, on Christmas Eve, we anticipate the coming of the Lord, the Divine Infant, the King of Kings, born to Mary, who ascended to Heaven and sits at the right hand of the Father.
As we keep vigil, let us be made anew with Christ this Christmas. Let us pray that the mystery of the Incarnation be born afresh in our hearts and minds, so that our love of neighbor and love of God may increase, and we may participate in the coming of the Kingdom. Merry Christmas everyone.