By Colleen Gibson, SSJ
Each year, sometime in November, I begin to ask myself: What message will Christmas bring this year?
As I watch stores fill with decorations and radio stations slowly turn to Christmas music, I wonder to myself: What message do I need? What message does our world need? And what could possibly capture the magnitude of this season and the fullness of the Incarnation?
Then, putting all profundity aside, I ask myself: What will my Christmas card be this year?
There is something that brings me great joy in answering that final question. Browsing online catalogs and walking down the aisles of my local card shop, I marvel at the variety of cards available. From the sublime to the ridiculous, Christmas cards have you covered. A New Yorker cartoon with a child Jesus complaining about how close his birthday is to Hannukah? A Thomas Kinkade cottage tucked away in a winter wonderland? An abstract rendering of the Nativity? You name it, and I bet there’s a card for that.
Yet, as I browse, the question of message returns. What exactly is God calling me to be ready for this Christmas? It’s in answering that question that I ultimately come to the card I want to send.
Afterall, that message is what I will pray with time and time again as I write cards to my friends and family. That is the message that will be echoed in my own words written inside and which will be put on display in people’s houses, as the cards adorn mantles and refrigerators.
As I take my time writing my cards, my own mailbox will begin to fill with cards from near and far. Opening each one is a gift unto itself. These are physical manifestations of relationships maintained over the years, signs of connection and thoughtfulness.
Gleefully opening each card, I wonder to myself: What is the message this person wanted to send?
As the days of Advent progress toward Christmas, a collage of Christmas cheer begins to gather in my prayer space. With gratitude, I look upon them each morning, and as I recollect each night, I marvel at the ways God comes into our lives through the everyday relationships we maintain. God became human and dwelt among us.
In this busy season, the act of sending Christmas cards helps to ground me in that reality. It slows me down enough to see the goodness of God coming to life all around me. As I write my own cards, I revel in the simple signs of love these cards capture: families I’ve watched grow over the years, Christmas letters that give the roundup of what has been, and beautiful images emblazoned with messages of peace, hope, joy and love.
I take each card as a prayer from those who sent it, an act of intention — as if to say, I picked this stamp for you, this card for you, this picture for you… (And guess what else? I went to the post office, for you!). The implication of each is that if I would do that for you, I’d surely do much more. My hope, of course, is that those who get a card from me feel the same.
Some years, I get my cards out by Christmas. Many other years, my Christmas cards become Epiphany cards, with postmarks stretching far into the Christmas season. Either way, they are sent with love, and I trust that they are received with love too.
A few years ago, I found a card with a bright colored, geometrically designed Nativity. Underneath the Holy Family in chunky, block letters it read “La Navidad Celebra El Gran Amor de Dios.”
Christmas Celebrates God’s Great Love.
Inside, all in Spanish, a message about the gift of God becoming human to share love with the world poured forth. It was the message I had been looking for, but I worried that people might not be able to understand it. Inside, I offered a rough translation and my own well wishes. To my surprise, many wrote back to me to say what a comfort it had been. As a childhood teacher wrote, “How beautiful and definitely the only Christmas card in Spanish I’ve received in my 75 years of life!”
Beauty and surprise: the fruits of Love taking on flesh. That is the message that we all are called to bear this season, to prepare our hearts for Christ’s ever-renewed coming and to celebrate the gifts of the season. Whatever cards express those gifts — be they joy, peace, hope or love — may we share them with the world around us, acting with intention and sharing the message of God’s great love by the way we share it with one another.
Colleen Gibson, SSJ, is a Sister of Saint Joseph from Chestnut Hill, Philadelphia who currently serves as the coordinator of pastoral care at St. John-St. Paul Catholic Collaborative in Wellesley, Massachusetts. The co-host of the podcast “Beyond the Habit”, Sister Colleen is an award-winning author and speaker whose work appears regularly in Give Us This Day, National Catholic Reporter and Global Sisters Report. Her Christmas cards this year feature two quotes: “We are all meant to be mothers of God for God is always needing to be born” (Meister Eckhart) and “Christ is born to us today, in order that he may appear to the whole world through us” (Thomas Merton).