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Have a mary (not a martha) christmas

Each year Christmas seems to blow through our home like a tornado… There’s a low dark rumbling that grows in intensity through December that culminates in a whirlwind of family visits, a race to open presents and a multi-course gourmet meal on Christmas day. Once the dust has settled my wife and I will collapse amidst the stacks of dirty dishes, the detritus of shredded gift-wrap and already forgotten toys, our glazed eyes asking, “What just happened?”

What just happened (what tends to happen every year) is a Martha Christmas. Not a Martha Stewart Christmas, but a Martha Christmas, as in the sisters Mary and Martha whom Jesus visited (cf Lk 10:38-42). When Jesus visited the sister’s home, Mary sat at the feet of Our Lord, hanging on every word he said, while Martha was distracted by her many tasks. (Lk 10:40)

Too often this is what happens to us during the Advent and Christmas seasons – we are distracted by our many tasks in bringing the holiday together for others. There are presents to buy, lists to be made to make sure no one is forgotten, a house to be cleaned, a tree to be decorated, a meal to be planned, groceries to be bought, a turkey to be stuffed and the trimmings to be fixed – the distractions can be endless. The temptation to become Martha can be overwhelming.

When all is said and done at the end of Christmas day, which are the memories we will want to cherish – running around the kitchen or laughing with family? fighting the crowds at the mall or holding our children, their faces lit up from the simplest of gifts? Wouldn’t we much rather have been like Mary, sitting at the Lord’s feet and listening to what he was saying (Lk 10:39), relishing in his presence in those around us, instead of running around distracted like Martha, missing out on what is really important.

This isn’t to say that we need to completely abandon the trappings of Christmas – absolutely not, they are very much a part of celebrating the Lord’s birth; we just need to be careful not to let the distractions of the season take over. Too often at festive family gatherings, one or two people do all the running around while the rest sit back and enjoy. Just as Martha begrudged Mary sitting at Jesus’ feet, we too can begrudge being sucked in by the distractions of the day and not being able to enjoy the Christmas merriment.

There is a time and a place for festive preparations, but we shouldn’t let them take over. In the years that come, we won’t recall every gift that was given or received, but we will cherish the memory of the laugh we shared with family and friends. The greatest gift we can give each other is our time and presence, these things don’t run on batteries, nor will they fade, shrink or give us heartburn – they will give us joy.

This year at Christmas, we need to recognize those special moments when Christ comes into our life through others, and like Mary, we need to chose the better part, which will not be taken away from us. (cf Lk 10:42)

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