I'm learning what pastors around the globe know so well: that Christmas Is Different For Pastors.
The same truth reverberates - Emmanuel, God With Us. It has, however, sunk in that this year I work Christmas Eve and Christmas Day, and not only work, but serve to fashion a threshold between tired hungry human hearts and the Trinity.
The Advent season has been joyous at church, candles lit every week, new faces showing up in worship; in the past week I've swung from sitting with a family while a woman has knee surgery to taking the youth roller skating to chatting with a young woman who faces her first Christmas without her mom, a cancer victim, all the while catching Christmas songs on the radio, trying to keep my own Advent calendar up to date and trying new spritz cookie recipes until I'm too tired to keep my eyes open.
At 7:30 last night I told John I was going to bed, then discovered once there that my mind was whirring, despite the sinus infection I'm fighting. A little NyQuil, though, and I was out.
I love Christmas. My favorite time of year, and this year, I'm enjoying watching Jack get to rip paper off packages and exclaim delight at illuminated yards.
I wonder if the poinsettias are watered. I haven't watched "It's a Wonderful Life" yet this year. I need to call and ask who organizes the handheld candles for the Christmas Eve service.
Lots of "I" there, I see.
Truth is, don't say a prayer for me because it's a busy season, it's busy for everyone.
Say a prayer for me because I'm homesick, and say a prayer because I grieve. Those are the emotionally draining things, truly, not busy hubbub. I'm not the only one. Many people in this economy see their loved ones less, and many people grieve during the holidays. Pray for them too. For those separated by distance, separated by hurtful choices, separated by necessity. I think of military families and marvel at their daily strength.
It was a tiring Christmas for Mary, after all - travel over bumpy paths on a stinky donkey 9 months pregnant, then labor pains, then visitors kept bothering her blabbering about visions. I think it took a year or two for the wise men to arrive just to make sure Mary wouldn't tell them where to stick their frankincense.
Truth is, it's hard to feel Not Your Best or Not Your Holiest at Christmas, when you love the season and deeply want to create space for others to worship. Silly human instinct, really, to want to dress up to visit the Manger.
Most of us don't overly love "Little Drummer Boy," but I do, because sometimes I'm keenly aware that all I have to offer the Baby is the ability to bang loudly on a potentially annoying instrument. No bank account of gold, no Neiman Marcus myrrh, just myself, rhythm, playing in thanks for God With Us.
Here's my rhythm, Lord. My excitement at your birth. It's all I have.
I played my drum for Him...
Thursday, December 8, 2011
How time flies when you are immersed in something new. Since arriving in my little town in July, I have learned names; learned relationships; learned places; I have done many things For the First. Administering my first congregational Communion; interviewing and hiring for the first time; participating as clergy for the first time - at a funeral (when you picture your death, have you ever considered you might be someone's first? A funeral director's first job? A loved one's first eulogy?).
Firsts can be exhausting - as any parent will confirm. Since arriving in my little town in July, Little Guy has climbed up onto the dining room table for the first time; he has expressed preference for juice over milk for the first time; for the first time, he's been excited by a Christmas tree, instead of terrified.
But Firsts are foundations, concrete knowledge of how, introductions to pitfalls and practicalities. More than this, Firsts often show intent because skill is not yet honed. And on these foundations of Firsts, we all want to build Beauty. Real Beauty - not beauty products, like cosmetics; not beauty tips, like moisturizing advice.
I believe that we encounter Firsts, we choose them, no matter how big our learning curve or how fresh and new our enthusiasm, because we love beauty and wish to see it flourish. Every gardener has turned a spade of soil for the First time; every dimpled toddler hand has grasped a crayon for the First time and seen, with glee, the colored mark left on the paper.
Since arriving in my little town in July, I have seen Beauty; and I have attempted to build foundations for Beauty to take root in, from which to grow and flourish like a scaling, climbing rose up a crumbling brick wall.
When you encounter a First, reflect. Step back, eye it, and say, "what do I want you to be, First?
A First grandchild is born. "How can I build from this a foundation of Beauty?"
A First cancer diagnosis is received. "How can I build from this a foundation of Beauty?"
A First day at a new job is approaching. "How can I build from this a foundation of Beauty?"
A First move away since circumstances have changed. "How can I build from this a foundation of Beauty?"
A First holiday alone is faced. "How can I build from this a foundation of Beauty?"
A First daunting success is absorbed. "How can I build from this a foundation of Beauty?"
Because Beauty is Grace - grace to the giver, grace to the recipient. Think about it: gardeners revel in the sprouting work of their hands, but so do folks walking their dogs past the flowerbeds...
And when you come to the end of your life - as four people have done since I arrived in my little town in July - you will reflect on your Firsts, your foundations of Beauty, because you will be meeting yet another First - the First time saying goodbye for the final time. And when you reach the Last First, the question still remains:
"How can I build from this a foundation of Beauty?"