December 7, 2011
You can see in this week’s section that this particular holiday season is a time of preparation and anticipation.
My liturgical sensibilities adore the fact that Christmas begins the traditional church year.
Although the closest I ever got to understanding Advent as a child was our little December calendar over the fireplace, I still like to think that my mother raised me well by making sure I did not neglect the Velcro figures awaiting their appointment to the felt Christmas tree.
In a small way, from an early age I was being taught the rhythm of Advent as a daily preparation for the birth which began life as we know it.
To this day, I save the last little figure for the top of the tree.
But the holiday season represents plenty of other things for me.
I have a lot of memories—not all of them are joyful—that lead to fresh reflections with December’s arrival.
I remember my dear friend, Kathryn, singing a Christmas song at our home church and watching my pastor rush to the stage to hold her microphone when it kept falling.
They sat side by side on the piano bench while she played—and I wept.
When I was a little girl, Christmas Eve always happened at my grandparents’ house, and it was always my favorite part of the holiday.
Even after my grandfather died, it remained an important installation to keep something stable in the midst of loss.
My brother and I both, now well into our 20s, still race downstairs every Christmas morning to see what Santa brought us; we still get almost as excited as when passions arose over whose beanbag chair was better.
Christmastime also revives other memories that aren’t as obviously bound up in traditions and experiences that would normally be first to come to mind.
I remember getting so angry a few years ago when my teenage cousin was debating which charity should get his extra money—an organization trying to stop child slavery or an initiative trying to take away “Happy Holidays” advertisements—and he said he’d probably choose the latter.
This semester, I got to spend time with my former boss’s wife as she struggled with illness and needed some company.
We talked of her old family memories and my hopes for the future.
She passed away right before Thanksgiving week.
A particular memory with a high school boyfriend involved driving around to admire houses adorned with endless displays of Christmas lights.
The evening ended in tears and arguments, and I rode home watching the streaks of red and green skip across the passenger window.
I know that these fragments appear rather disjointed, but they all stand firmly before me, needing to be remembered this month.
My initial goal was (somehow) to capture the entire Christmastime experience, but I never seem able to get beyond my own.
In the midst of these reminiscences, others came to mind that I had to dismiss: “No, that’s too painful,” or, “No, that doesn’t sound hopeful enough.”
I tried to put away some memories that just don’t seem to match with “the” Christmas story of hope and love—God descended to earth as the bringer of joy and salvation.
Where is that joy in the midst of slow death?
How do we comfort those whose stories don’t have proper resolutions?
Christmas finds people in all situations, from newly widowed to newly with child.
I found out that my boss’s wife died a few days before I had to go home and be happy that my cousin was pregnant.
I didn’t know how to do that with a full (or completely honest) smile.
But maybe that’s kind of the point.
Maybe Jesus came down to be hope to those for whom we have none to offer ourselves.
If the story of Christmas is finding hope in confusion and joy in sorrow, and if Christ truly came to bind all things unto himself, then I guess this season somehow has to have something to say to everyone.
I just don’t really know what it is.
But it comes in something like a surprise Christmas gift from a favorite professor—as a sort of memorial to the joy the semester brought in the midst of questions and crises (for both of us).
Grace pours down in an (unintentional) soggy walk in the rain that later makes a hot, dry breakfast more communal than you could have imagined.
All of these things seem ultimately to drive toward the same thing: Christ came to save those that were lost.
And when he did, a light shone in the darkness—everywhere—that would never go out (even when we can’t quite see it).