Christmas is my favorite time of year. Especially in church world. Well, in all the world. The way the landscape changes in the northern world as the days shorten and the nights lengthen is magical and intriguing. During this darkening of our 24 hours, other lights appear gradually – a tree here, a string of lights there, and an inflatable reindeer and other creatures appear on lawns. Then the gradual seems all of a sudden as most homes are brightly lit for the festive season of Christmas. A Jewish neighbor lights a Menorah for Hanukkah. Earlier in November a Hindu family had row upon row of lights for Diwali.
Themes are common among many religions – the victory of good over evil, the victory of light over dark, and the victory of knowledge over ignorance. Hope is renewed. Joy fills the heart. Charity and generosity flow from so many in such wonderful ways. People seem transformed and the way we can be is revealed again. We are good. We are light. We are seekers of knowledge and truth. We care. We hope. We love. Each festive season nudges us a bit more into being fully human. Remember the one whose birth we celebrate? It is said that he is Emmanuel – God-with-us. God who is fully human who is fully divine. For a moment or two or three (actually) there are many moments, I feel the grace and the love of God in my full humanity. My broken, wounded, imperfect being is mended, healed, and perfected once again, and over and over again.
This year that is soon to be in the history books has been what I describe for myself as an “off year.” I haven’t been at the top of my game. I’ve been sluggish, a bit too cynical, and, to be honest, a bit despairing. I was tired for most of the time, and my emotions seemed to be flat-lined – no ups or downs, just blah. Sunday mornings took a great muster of energy, and I would go home exhausted.
Two experiences in my family life this year gave me a good scare. While I was out hiking on a Saturday in late April, my wife had a heart attack and had to be rushed to the hospital by ambulance. Imagine my surprise! Two weeks later, I received word that my son had crashed on a motorcycle in Saskatchewan of all places! Imagine the fear and worry that caught hold of me with that news! I was in Alberta nd new nothing more for a while. Both stories are about the wonder and miracle of something providential. My son literally walked away from the accident. He carries with him scars on his back and shoulder from the road rash, and hopefully a bit more wisdom born of this experience that says to him, “You’re not invincible.” After a 12 week cardio rehab program and now several months beyond that, my wife is stronger and mending.
Hiking is a passion of mine, but even so this past summer was different. It was all about the smoke, ashes, and crappy air from wildfires. The air quality was depressing and worrisome. Hikes were cancelled. Opportunities for getting out, breathing in that fresh mountain air, and seeing forever from the top of a mountain were greatly limited. For me, summer was a bummer!
Until when the family, all three of us, right at the end of summer – late August to early September – flew to Pennsylvania for our (Boz’s cousin’s) nephew’s wedding. The wedding was a great family event in Poughkeepsie, New York (three hours by car from where we were in PA). The wedding venue was an organic apple orchard with beautiful gardens, giant oak trees, a chicken coup, and an old two storey farmhouse full of charm and story located near the mighty and historic Hudson River. We were there for a long weekend – Friday rehearsal and Dinner, Saturday wedding, and a Sunday morning “bagel” breakfast. Who would have thought that there could be so many different bagels? The venue allowed for time outdoors in swings, at picnic tables, walking the paths, riding bikes, picking apples, and connecting with family and friends. Briefly, I was at home – a home left many years ago. This wasn’t the place of my birth and growing up. This wasn’t eastern North Carolina, but it was home – country air, flowing rivers, cardinals and mocking birds and blue jays, and extended family. Oh, and the sweet aerosol of ripening apples was intoxicating. Feeling at home away from home is a treasured gift.
Upon returning from that trip, church world was in full gear. There was a new face to many – that of the Rev. Hillary MacDonald. She came into the church family of St. Andrew’s and Deer Park with confidence, compassion, competency, and engaging energy. Church folk were excited about her arrival, and continue to be.
Many in the church family shared their love for the church with ideas, leadership, fundraising, new initiatives, outreach, and by showing up. The settling in of fall brought new energy and excitement.
As I write this, only a few days before Christmas, it is already quiet. Christmas hampers for those in need have been packed and are being delivered. The broken sanctuary grand piano has been fixed, and a new rooftop furnace installed. The financial generosity to the Church has been overwhelming and amazing. Christmas services are all planned and ready to go. I push back from my desk and breathe a deep sigh of relief and gratitude.
Christmas is here. The Spirit of Christ is always present, felt, seen, heard, and known in the often hectic and chaotic place called church. The Spirit of Christ is forever here pushing us out to connect with our neighbours, each other, and the world.
So, I am ok to stand by the warm glow of a romanticized and sanitized stable scene just long enough to know that in a real world there are moments of peace, warmth, and tenderness where heaven and earth kiss and the hand of God moves – bringing goodness, light, and truth into our world.
Merry Christmas! God bless you and keep you.