Contrasts and Christmas Eve

It’s interesting to me that homemade peanut clusters and chocolate covered cherries taste waaay better than protein bars that also have chocolate, peanuts, and even some cherries or blueberries if you want them. I’m guessing we don’t really have to start our New Year’s resolutions til a week from today, but I thought it would be easier on my body if I didn’t shock it by putting healthy things into it suddenly on the second of January. So for breakfast this morning I had a peanut cluster, a chocolate covered cherry, and then a protein bar. Working my way out of Christmas toward life back in reality but gradually. I never was a run and cannonball into the pool swimmer, more of a sit on the side and splash myself so all my skin gets used to the temperature of the water before I make the big jump. Not certain if that has served me well over the course of my years or whether ripping the bandaid off rather than inching it armhair by armhair is the better way to go. There are tons of illustrations for this you know. Do you rip into packages throwing the paper over your head until you reach the treasure, or do you slip a finger under the tape at the ends with the possibility of saving the paper for re-wrapping? Do you save the boxes? There’s curbside recycling and then there’s re-wrapping, re-boxing and re-gifting recycling???

Is the essence of how we meet these things in life nature or nurture? Innate or life-experience? One of my sets of grandparents still had towel sets in the original tissue paper inside the seasonal boxes that my parents gave them for Christmas years and years previous. They both came of age and were married during the dust-bowl and the Depression in the 20’s and 30’s of the 20th century, so saving new things until the old ones were completely un-usable was a way of life. We sat on this rubbery vinyl covering on their couch for years protecting it from wear and from the dust that they lived through in the dust-bowl years. It was a way of life for them, for their grandchildren simply something that made grandma and grandad who they were. We chuckle about it now as a part of their unique character that we look to find pieces of in ourselves in odd sorts of ways.

It’s part of the heart of tradition I think. Rituals, behaviors, expectations become more set into place without our intentional awareness until someone wants to change something – then suddenly the change seems sacrilegious at best and brings on division and estrangement at worst. It’s a subtle balance with which we live. The heart of tradition gives us a sense of stability and security, most especially in times that feel rather unstable and moments when we me feel most insecure. To know what to expect, especially in high Holy-days, reminds us that the world didn’t start at our birth and most likely won’t end when we die. There is an “arc of history” that as Martin Luther King, Jr. says, “bends toward justice.” And so the best of tradition invites a sense of humility that we have an important place in God’s story, but no more or less important than any other generation that has been or will be.

And on the other hand, when those traditions become so set into place that any kind of change brings hostility or division, we have lost the best part of what tradition is meant to be. When “but we’ve always done it this way,” becomes a commandment that doesn’t allow new thinking, fresh ideas, or the possibility that new life can be breathed into traditional ideas, then we’re at risk of losing understanding of the living nature of God’s gift of birth and love and light that is the hope of every tomorrow.

Christmas Eve is just that sort of paradox for me – and maybe I’m not the only pastor for whom this is a little true. I love it and don’t so much love it at the same time. I hope there’s not terrible disillusionment here! I absolutely adore all the people and the noise and the folderol and the spirit that invades the church as people greet and talk and catch up and take pictures. And I don’t so much love the nervous stomach of wanting to create “The Best Christmas Eve Sermon Ever”, the mad rush of trying to ensure that family feels the same priority to me that I place on my service to the church, and trying to allow myself to experience the sacred and beautiful and spiritual promise in the birth of Christ myself as a “normal” person along with everyone else in the world. So Christmas Eve may be a little horrible and wonderful all mixed together. Maybe that has a hint of truth for all of us. And maybe that’s at the heart of why Christmas Eve is such a meaningful time in it’s own unique way. It represents the best and sometimes the worst in us. It offers the possibility of doing things with extraordinary love and generosity and hope, and it offers the possibility of putting on a veneer of perfection so that the world doesn’t see our sorrow, our despair, and what feels like the smallness of our hearts in the midst of what looks like everyone else’s expansiveness. It is the Holy entering into the reality. It is God knowing us at our best and worst, and loving us in and through it all. Jesus is born into a dangerous and oppressive Roman Empire, and angels sing about God’s peace and good will. Herod seeks to have the child killed, and Mary and Joseph leave everything they’ve ever known to enter a foreign country to save him. Jesus is a long-awaited Messiah and the religious and political systems of the day don’t want to recognize him because he doesn’t come, nor live, nor relate exclusively in the “expectantly royal” way.

Life is nothing if not paradoxically complex and inconsistent. And in the midst of the paradox, and the complexity, and the inconsistency, God’s love continues to come into being in tangible ways that offer hope and promise. I think I even have a little post-Christmas Eve partum depression. I know, right? I love it and hate it and am sorry when it’s over…what-eve *snort* – see what I did there?!? Nod and smile and be patient. . .

Eat a few more peanut clusters and chocolate covered cherries; save some not-too-torn up wrapping paper and not-too-dented up bows; cry a few more tears about who wasn’t present for Christmas and laugh a few more times about something that one weird family member said or did that may have been a leeeeetle inappropriate; and be wonderfully glad that God’s love lives and breathes and laughs and cries and shares the complexities of life with us – because finally that is the promise for a minute or maybe two, of grace!

And thanks, Tara, for gifting us with this song on Christmas Eve!!!