Christmas Eve Day...

Home alone this morning on Christmas Eve Day - quiet, different, a little melancholic and peaceful - as Dianne is at work and the girls at their their respective in-laws for the feast. As I sip hot tea, contemplate the tree and think of years gone by a flood of memories come into view. When the girls were little there was always excitement in the air on this day: last minute shopping and wrapping, going with me on visits to the hospital and getting ready for worship.

+ We have always had an extensive Christmas music collection so John Fahey's guitar tunes were often in the air as we baked bread and last minute cookies. Later it became Carlos Nakai, Loreena McKinnit, Bert Jansch and the ancient noels of Europe; music has always been prayer in this home.

+ As my daughters matured, one of our rituals involved recalling - often in great detail - some of the truly horrible Christmas Eve sermons I have preached! They would be able to remember the most hideous and offensive details - and recount them with brutal clarity and zeal - that I would wind up laughing so hard I could barely move. (There were years of real stinkers!)

+ And later still, when they were in college or starting their professional lives, this day often included a trip to the airport, too, with the accompanying anxiety about air travel, snow delays and all the rest. There has always been a GREAT deal to do on this sacred day...

... and now there isn't. I rarely preach on Christmas Eve any more: as Black Pete says, "This is a heart time... and sermons are for the head," so worship preparation is less stressful. In middle age, I want to let the ancient/future story carry the load.

Like my dear friend in Tucson, don E, says: there is really just a magic about the story. But it is hard to submit to it because it is a scary, out on the wing of the airplane, experience. Everything that can go wrong for our heroes goes wrong and a small helpless child makes it all better. God by placing itself into such an incredible fragile state shows us a trust in us beyond belief. It is a story of faith of God in humankind and that is just incredible beyond words. (Freakin' brilliant, yes?)

There is still music to practice for worship tonight, of course, and still gifts to wrap and probably others things I have forgotten and will regret in the morning. But everything feels so much more subdued today - at least in my world - and that is part of today's spiritual blessing, I think: this really isn't about me. Already I have heard from a friend at church who is on the way to NJ following last night's death of his mother; the US Senate just passed their version of health care reform (finally) and there are wars still raging in a variety of places across the world as well as heartbreak and despair.

What a quiet, tender and arresting reminder of the Christ child's birth, yes? It happens in spite of my feelings and circumstances, it happens in the most unexpected way and place and yet in a completely ordinary way, too. "How funny," don E puts it, "but the most non-business-as-usual event in history inspires the let's do this the business-as-usual strings in people. It seems to me that traditional Christmas should be listed in the oxymoron dictionary. The oddest, most improbable event in human history can't really be codified but I, like everyone else, tend to want to make some "traditions" to make a stimulus-response to Xmas happiness."

This is an odd celebration, yes? Blessed, ordinary, sacred, hopeful and frightening all at the same time - often invisible, too - and yet life changing. I put it like this in my weekly note to our faith community in Massachusetts:

For those not grounded in the rhythm of the Christian faith, this season is often filled with frantic partying and gift buying. One commentator recently noted that it is not unusual that people in northern climates would give one another gifts at the darkest time of the year: it makes us feel better. And there is nothing wrong with gift giving - unless it is compulsive - leads us into greater debt. But materialism and giving/receiving gifts is not really what our faith tradition calls for; rather throughout Advent we have been practicing watching and waiting so that we might discern where the small child of God is being born within and among us. We celebrate not only Christ's first birth, but his continuing birth among us in often the most unexpected places.

Additionally, many folk feel their emotional losses deeper at this time of year because, once again, the culture emphasizes happy and joyful family celebrations. The public articulation of this holiday rarely acknowledges the loneliness or dark feelings that so many of us feel for a variety of reasons: death, job loss, disease, broken hearts and so much more. And yet the Christ child story is filled with longing and fear, anxiety and quiet trust amidst the suffering of poverty, political oppression and social confusion. But this is not a part of popular culture and so many feel "out of place" during these holidays.

Our goal - my goal both personally and professionally - is to stay rooted in the spiritual wisdom of my tradition and try to welcome everyone (myself included) into the feast of God's love made flesh in Jesus Christ. Merry Christmas, dear friends.


SGF said…
Thanks for your honesty and sharing.....I can certainly connect to many of your thoughts this many memories and emotions....see you at 4:00...
Black Pete said…
And a Blessed Christmas celebration to you and yours, RJ.
Rev Nancy Fitz said…
On this quiet Christmas morning I'm enjoying your thoughts and reflections. While I wait for our son to wake up and I'm missing our daughter and new son-in-law, I too realize how much time has changed our circumstances. This morning, is the 1st Christmas in a new home (after 22 years in the last. We're enjoying parsonage life so far.)
I give thanks for blogging friends and the thoughts we are able to share. May your day be blessed!

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