You’ve heard of the three wise men, right? Those guys bearing gifts for the little refugee family who delivered their baby in a barn? And you've heard the story of Hanukkah and the miracle of the lights. Well, those gifts and miracles have relevance to us 21st century pilgrims.
All the seasonal parables are about the same thing: awakening joy in times of darkness. They are about hope AND hopelessness; home AND exile; celebration AND grief. They are never just about joy. Joy is the gold we can mine as we walk life’s path, but that path traverses all sorts of uncertain and difficult terrains.
I like to reconnect with the spiritual teachings of Hanukkah, Christmas, winter solstice, and the lesser-known December holidays. You probably didn’t know that December 8 was Rohatsu, which commemorates the day in 566 BC when the Buddha attained enlightenment. Like Mary and Joseph who found no welcome at the inn, and birthed the baby Jesus in a manger, and like the Maccabees who reclaimed the desecrated temple and lit the miraculous light of Hanukkah, the Buddha awakened his joy after a long struggle, under the Bodhi tree, alone and hungry.
Richard Rohr, a Franciscan Father writes, “Truth and goodness are not always found at the top, but often on the edge and at the bottom . . . Not in the center of empire, but in the backwaters of Bethlehem. Not among the established, but clearly among those who are dis-established.” Hanukkah and Christmas are the ultimate stories of outsiders finding sanctuary, light, and community against all odds.
If you are going through a hard time—or if the despair of the world is weighing heavy in your heart—you need seek no further than the stories of the season to help you find light in the darkest month of the year. Let the season awaken your generosity. Be like the three wise men, bearing gifts for the homeless, the refugees, the forgotten. (And please remember that often the most forgotten person on your list is YOU. Be good to your own heart and you’ll have more to give to others.)