Florida Commentaries: The Magic and the Tragic

Tampa, FL -

What Christmas means to me is an authentic invitation to live for a season between two seemingly opposite poles - what I would describe as the 'Magic and the Tragic.'

You don't have to look far to encounter what I mean just listen to a few Christmas carols, or one sitting of Handel's 'Messiah.'

The Advent and Christmas Scriptures in particular are the best example of the magic and the tragic. They present us with such an assortment of characters. There is that wonderful eccentric John the Baptist who first prophesizes of the coming of Emmanuel 'God with us.'

He wears strange clothes that we are told are very scratchy and he eats locusts and honey out in the wilderness. We love him. He ends up by getting his head chopped off and inspires a great opera called 'Salome.' Ah, the Magic and the Tragic.

And the there are the three wise men, who come from afar and remind of us of the universal quest for hope and truth. They bring exotic gifts guided by a great star to a baby in a manger at the same time an evil politician is plotting a program of infanticide to kill the very baby the wise men are going to greet. Ah, the Magic and the Tragic.

The tragic in that the magic of God choosing to become human, is not only human but in becoming vulnerable - a baby. At Christmas, God becomes poor. God chooses a poor unmarried teenager from a despised race, living in occupied territory to become the Mother of God. How relevant, how real, how utterly mysterious. Ah the magic and the tragic.

And what about Santa Claus - okay, you won't find this one in the Bible. Wwhen I was in elementary school, I selected 'Nicole' as my confirmation name. The female version of St. Nick or Santa Claus. We were all instructed to do a hagiography on the saint we selected.

(This is official research on the history of a saint.) I thought picking Santa Claus for my namesake would be pretty cool and might help me cash in on presents that year. I learned that Santa Claus was a bishop (ah the red suit) who gave money to orphans and paid the dowries of street girls to keep them from prostitution. Now I know this is not what we are thinking when we take our children to the Mall to visit Santa. Ah, the Magic and tragic.

So for me the meaning of Christmas is the ability to stay balanced, to live right smack in the middle of that tension. To not allow myself to settle only for the Magic -the presents, lights, tinsel and glitz what preachers like to rail against this time of year as the superficial and commercial. And then equally not to succumb to the tragic which denies the whole point of this great and mysterious event, that like the very first Christmas God comes to us right in the middle of great despair, squalor, war and strife and breaks through with hope. God with us, God one of Us. The promise of Christmas like the Savior it celebrates is that finally the tragic does not triumph Ah, the Magic!

The magic of Christmas is that it gives me the light and the hope to face the tragic all 364 days of the rest of the year. Merry Christmas!

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