I have to be honest. This pastor’s Christmas joy was a little flat this year. But inspire of how I felt, there was a lot of joy in the middle of the mess.
This Advent opened in a true Spirit of anticipation. I was aware of my own sense of waiting and longing. It collapsed around me when, during the week immediately preceding Christmas, I found out that I was not selected for a new ministry opportunity. It stung like hell. It was (and is) heartbreaking, but it is also for the best. Recovering slowly from my disappointment, I discovered I was not really up for the last minute Christmas shopping and planning.
On top of that, our church is facing a challenging financial twist which not only affects our church as a whole, but eliminates the salary for my (very) part-time job. I am serving, for now, in a volunteer capacity.
The usual hilarious disorganization of a Christmas Eve service was compounded by the Choir Director leading despite a bad case of laryngitis, and choir members inexplicably deciding to make other plans and miss the candlelight Christmas Eve service. By the time the service started, I was finally in sync, enjoying the people in our congregation, and our celebration of Love arriving on the Earth in human form.
Just to keep things interesting… In the early hours of Christmas morning, a GI virus and its complications meant that I spent Christmas Day in the ED with one of our beloved daughters. The rest of the family put the turkey dinner and gift-giving on hold.
As I sat with our daughter, watching over her, I had a new appreciation for the staff who work on holidays. I have worked many of them in years past as a chaplain. It is hard to keep your spirits up when you know you are missing your own family’s celebrations. The ED staff, was, to a person, kind, caring and helpful.
But I also thought about the families who had a disappointing Christmas that day. My hospice families who tried to celebrate in the middle of loss. I remembered the families and spouses of those in the military, and first responders. Their Christmas celebrations were impacted, too, and in far greater ways.
Today our daughter is on the mend. We cooked the turkey and all of the accompaniments. The cranberries and stuffing, potatoes and carrots graced the table too. (We won’t talk about my gravy… it was, as per usual, disappointing.) The cookie dough will get baked… eventually. Flights to holiday celebrations are being re-booked for a healthier day. And all is well.
In the middle of the mess that is life in the ED, I was reminded that the message of the Christ Child is the center of my Faith. In impossible situations, with unlikely companions, despite all odds, God breaks through with another “I love you” and a “Hallelujah!”
I don’t want to make it an annual event, but I am grateful for God’s speaking through the clanging of culture, sickness and politics to declare:
“Don’t be afraid!
Look! I bring good news to you
wonderful, joyous news for all people.”
What do pastors do to prepare for Christmas, you ask?
We vacuum. We untangle Christmas lights. We find missing hymnals and restock the pews. We set up an ironing board so that the choir can “freshen” up their robes.
We resuscitate poinsettias that someone forgot to water. (And compost the ones that don’t make it.)
We refresh the greens in the sanctuary and figure out where the tapers are for the candlelight service.
And we pray for our congregants and our visitors, that the Light of the world will shine through in new ways.
And then, we go home and put our feet up for just a minute… before finishing that next round of baking, wrapping, and cleaning. ‘Cause Christmas is coming!!
Cross-posted from RevGals today…
we are in this time
but not yet.
We tell of your promised return
but not yet.
Of the wearied hearts who wait
and yet rejoice
for it is that time
for the Babe to be our King… and yet
not quite yet.
This Advent winds to a close
but not yet
And we wait
our vision a haze
of future joys
and realized Promises.
We see imperfectly,
in a blur,
praying for all you will yet do…
for You, Divine One,
for this time
and not yet.
Amen. And Amen.
Winter Solstice Blessing
From Karen Clark’s blog and book A Path of She
Nature remembers what we humans have forgotten – that every cycle must return to stillness, and to the dark.
Every out-breath requires an in-breath
Every outer endeavor turns back inward to its origins, its center, in order to begin again.
From death comes new life, and from darkest night, the new dawn is born.
May the darkness of winter bring new appreciation of the Light.
The Spirit blows where She wills. I will hope and pray and keep listening.
In case you wondered, I’m not very good at that. My first idea for this evening was to work at finishing a project which was meant to be a present (which will be done by Christmas NEXT year). Then I was going to bake cookies. My heartfelt response? MEH!
The only thing that really appealed to me was… nothing.
I sat with my emotions for a while, trying to understand my inner processes. My brain is tired. And my heart is hurting for some of my flock. And I’m praying in anticipation for an answer… that hasn’t been revealed yet. In short, I’m out of sorts. Grumpy. A little preoccupied. Life is in “freeze-frame” and I don’t particularly like it.
This third week of Advent is supposed to be about Joy… and while I understand intellectually and personally what “joy” means, I’m having trouble “feeling” it. There’s enough sucky stuff in the world that is weighing me down. (Yes. I know “Joy is a choice, not a feeling.” And “Joy is a spiritual gift, not a state of mind.” I’ve preached the sermons and done the Greek. I’m being real, here.)
On my walk through the outdoor labyrinth at Dayspring last week, I looked down to see this:
THIS is Joy. Not fireworks or helium balloons or a blast of trumpets (or whatever image that is your vision of Joy.)
Joy is this time of waiting and watching… believing and praying… trusting. And waiting some more.
Joy for me is often a whisper, a hint. It’s a gnat that you can’t quite catch. It’s a lightning bug that rises on a summer night and fades away. It’s the spark in the fireplace, popping and vanishing up the chimney.
Joy is wrapped in the Divine… but it is also trapped in our humanity. And that’s where I am struggling in Advent this year.
27 Notice how the lilies grow. They don’t wear themselves out with work, and they don’t spin cloth. But I say to you that even Solomon in all his splendor wasn’t dressed like one of these.28 If God dresses grass in the field so beautifully, even though it’s alive today and tomorrow it’s thrown into the furnace, how much more will God do for you, you people of weak faith!29 Don’t chase after what you will eat and what you will drink. Stop worrying.30 All the nations of the world long for these things. Your Father knows that you need them.31 Instead, desire his kingdom and these things will be given to you as well. Luke 12: 27-31 CEB