Like many of you, the weekend before Thanksgiving our family startsgoing through all of our Christmas boxes as we prepare to decorate our home the following weekend. The minute the turkey is eaten and the guests have all gone home we shift gears. I smiled as we unpacked the nativity set my husband gave me for Christmas years ago. I thought about how it reminds me daily throughout Advent to reflect on the story of Jesus’ birth.
Mary and Joseph sought a place of comfort for Mary to give birth. They wanted someone to receive them, to offer hospitality, to welcome them home. Instead, Mary and Joseph found comfort in a stable. They created their own “togetherness’ with the shepherds, the wise men, and the animals—all who gathered around this newborn baby in a manger. Perhaps the nativity image might be one that offers us hope, consolation, and comfort while also challenging us to welcome others. To make room for another in need. To practice transformational hospitality.
This year I’ve found myself reflecting on the word comfort. There are so many people in need of comfort. Exploring the word and its meaning, I also came across a 16-century Norwegian term, hugga, which means “to comfort” or ”to console.” It is related to the English word “hug.” Last year we missed comforting one another. We missed hugs. I missed hugging my parents, my siblings, my friends. We missed touching one another at the holidays.
Of course, in my deeper dive into the word comfort, I couldn’t miss the Danish derivative of hugga, called “hygge”—it now represents an entire lifestyle trend defined by “togetherness,” “well-being,” and “a quality of coziness and comfortable conviviality that engenders a feeling of contentment.” Author Helen Dyrbye writes in A Xenophobe's Guide to the Danes “...hygge has more to do with people's behavior toward each other... It is the art of creating intimacy: a sense of comradeship, conviviality and contentment rolled into one."
Hugs. Comfort. Consolation. Creating intimacy. Togetherness. Contentment.
My husband and I have hosted Thanksgiving for both sides of our family since his father passed in 2001. But in 2020, we celebrated Thanksgiving alone with our youngest adult daughter who was living with us during COVID, just the three of us. We ordered dinner from a local restaurant, part of our many efforts to keep local businesses surviving we said, but it also hardly seemed worth the usual effort for just the three of us. There were gifts in this experience for sure, but there was also loss.
Christmas was smaller as well, celebrating with only our children, unable to physically be with our parents due to underlying health conditions in each of them. It was hard to comfort them through dropped-off gifts and blown kisses through windows, but we created ways to experience “togetherness” even in our isolation, as many of you did, I’m sure. We had regular Zoom family gatherings throughout the holidays. We played games. We sang songs. We expressed our desire to be together. And in some ways that was comforting.
Circumstances aren’t always perfect. On that first Christmas, Mary and Joseph weren’t with their extended family or their friends, but they found comfort and intimacy around this newborn child in the manger. This year, the image of the nativity is offering me a renewed sense of hope and also a sense of responsibility—to myself and to others. Whether your ministry is to young people, their families, or the community at large, ask yourself these questions:
Christmas offers us an incarnational lesson—God with us. We are called to make Christ’s presence known. “Comfort, give to my people, says your God. Speak tenderly...” (Isaiah 40:1).
Originally published on November 22, 2021 for Vibrant Faith’s Online Community - https://vibrant-faith-catalyst.mn.co/
I share my own thoughts here. They do not represent the opinions of any organization I work with or for. They are my own, and I reserve the right to change them when I please. I am still growing, and learning, and evolving.