Last week I was in New York City, and on a rainy night I took a walk from the East Village up Broadway towards Time Square– to see the famous Christmas window displays at Macy’s that I’ve heard about since childhood. Everyone talks about the magic of Christmas in New York. Although I imagined snowflakes gently falling, It was unseasonably warm and humid and I had to strip down to a t-shirt as I strolled past the Tuesday night garbage piled high along the boulevard. Glancing down I found a brand new three hundred dollar Italian wool shirt casually tossed in a trashcan– which I took home as a gift to my delighted son. It fit perfectly and was the right color, a serendipitous gift nicer than any bought present he will find under the tree on December 25th. A few blocks later I found a suede leather woman’s jacket with a fresh food spill at the elbow. Rather than having it cleaned or wiping it off, the owner simply tossed it onto a pile of bagged garbage at the corner. When time is worth more than money, its quicker to buy a new one.
Downtown a few days earlier the city cleared the park where Occupy protestors spoke out about income inequality, while uptown the 1 % toss away expensive clothes at the curb. Arriving at Macy’s animatronic window displays, I was startled to see the copy for their holiday ad campaign, “BELIEVE…in the magic of Christmas.” Later when I arrived back at the seminary apartment of a friend in Chelsea where I was staying, I learned that the land for General Seminary had been donated by Clement Clarke Moore, a professor of Biblical Learning who ostensibly was also the author of the poem, A Visit from St. Nicholas, best known by its first line, “Twas the night before Christmas.” That poem is largely responsible for the modern conception of Santa Claus– and ironically was written by a theology professor. Its too easy to rail against consumerism and the fetish sentimentality of the season. But I’m thinking about what’s really scarce in a society of relative material wealth. Time. Solitude. Contentment. Gratitude. What I want for Christmas, what I want to believe is that I can learn to receive life itself as a divine gift and be watchful for the coming of Emmanuel in each person I meet and in every moment.