I find myself not liking Christmas. But it is not the only day on the calendar that bothers me. I don't like my birthday, and I think New Year's Eve and New Year's Day are a waste of time and money.
Part of my problem with Christmas I will blame on John Lennon. I'm a Lennon fan, and his Christmas song, "War is Over" is one of my favorites. From the opening lyric, "So this is Christmas/And what have you done/Another year over/And a new one just begun..." my curmudgeon comes out.
Christmas is an annual review, "what have you done?"
Perhaps it is the lack of sunlight in the winter. A little seasonal affective disorder kicking in. But when Christmas comes around I tend to think of all that I have not done. I review the times I failed, or worse, the times I did not even try. I remember the commitments I have made that I did not act on and the resolutions that fell away as easily as they were raised. I count the balance in my bank account and stress about paying the bills. I see that I am still unemployed and that I have not improved my family's future. I notice that the passing of the days and months and seasons seems to be moving faster and faster making the annual review come on the heals of the annual review previous. On some days, all I am sure of is that I don't measure up. I conduct my annual review and I am found with deficits. And this is no surprise. So at Christmas, when John Lennon asks, "what have you done?" I answer with a mixture of: "not enough", and "not well enough", and "I got it wrong."
In Fra Angelico's Annunciation (displayed above) the angel Gabriel shows up without regal splendor or intimidating stature to greet a modest Mary. Modesty and humility are key. In previous renderings, Mary often is portrayed with more splendid colors and fabrics (Simone Martini's Annunciation, she's clothed in gold, in Flemalle's Annunciation triptych, she's wearing satiny scarlet). Angelico keeps it simple.
So Mary, how would you answer John Lennon's question? What have you done?
Luke makes it clear that is not the relevant question. "Greetings, favored one. The Lord is with you." As all of God's great works among humankind, this too begins with God's initiative, not our achievement.
So Mary would answer John Lennon, "Nothing much."
Angelico's Annunciation was placed in the corridor of a monastery. It was the last thing the monks saw at the end of the day while they retreated each one to their cells. In that place of quiet reflection on the day just completed, the monks would pray their examin and compline, letting go of what lay behind and preparing for what God would bring next. Daily, nightly, the question would not be so much, "what have you done?" as a simple message of mercy, God will be with us and will continually invite to share in a mission of grace.
If I can cease the annual review, if I can let go of the previous days and years with my failures, if I simply hear God's continual invocation to me, "Greetings" - well then, I may become less of a grump at Christmas and might even begin to like my birthday. I'm still not sure about New Year's.