December 27th, 2005

cat quilt painting

That was Christmas

A sign on the wall of my office quotes George MacDonald: "There is nothing so deadening to the Divine as an habitual dealing with the outsides of holy things." This season, having dealt once again with the most externally exhibitionist of holidays, I have an appreciation for that saying. The challenge for those of us who want to get to, let's call it, the insides of holy things, at such a time, is to somehow distract ourselves from all of that habitual dealing and find a way to be surprised, overwhelmed, touched with the goodness that makes this particular season one of hope and joy to begin with.

On December 18th, our Sunday service was led by the children, who presented a play outlining the international nature of Christmas celebrations, and the wide range of traditions that enter into this season's dealings with the outsides of holy things. Even this small departure from the Fox-news-driven Americanization and politicization of all things holy, seems to me to have been a welcome treat. Anyway, it went well and everyone seemed pleased.

Christmas Eve, we had our Christmas concert (no cantata this year) in combination with the traditional candlelight service which is highlighted by celebration of the Lord's Supper. More than an hour of music, punctuated by the sacred meal, taken in silence, and a very few readings interspersed. By a combination of good planning and what I would call Divine leading, a theme emerged: that what we are celebrating is a radical message of peace, the method of whose coming is also announced by the very fabric of the story itself. We closed by singing the chorus, "Let There Be Peace On Earth, and Let It Begin With Me." Somehow we were touched by something beyond ourselves.

Unlike many larger churches we have heard about, we did have service on Christmas Day as well, a simple celebration. Again my task as preacher was to lift a corner of the veil which conceals the reality of the presence of God —Immanuel, God with us— which is the central mystery of faith.

That done, we came home, and oh by the way we had loot. Smiley got an iPod Nano, I got a bodacious 6.1 megapixel Kodak that can take video as well as still pictures. Everybody got books, thanks most especially to the Amazon wish list. I started reading Jacob Needleman, A Sense of the Cosmos. We ate chocolate, and turkey, and pie (in roughly that order) and watched videos. Somebody had got the first two seasons of Red Dwarf on DVD, so of course we had to review all of it. Monday, Boxing Day, we more or less continued. Cleaned up a bit, got a little work done, even went to the store for something or other, but really it was a lazy day. I've got less than a week to think about what, if anything, I will resolve to do with 2006. I'll post the list, if I get one, at the appropriate time.

This late in life, I'm gaining an appreciation for why the Puritans, of all people, banned Christmas. They may have had a lot of things wrong, but they seemed to understand that the cause of promoting the message of Jesus is diminished when that message is confined to a season, or a day, wherein people can congratulate themselves that because they have celebrated the day, they somehow are aligned with the message. For one day, we celebrate the angel's song of peace, the prophecies of peace, the birth of the Prince of Peace; then contentedly turn to our old ways, rather than be transformed into peacemakers. This is the tragedy of Christmas.

All that said, I'm not for banning anything. I still hold a glimmer of hope that the piercing of the darkness by starlight brings a promise that we are not unconnected with this vast Universe in which we find ourselves. Rightly understood, all of those glitzy externals are alive with meaning, if only we would let ourselves be touched by them. God is hidden in plain sight, if only we would dare to see.
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