Sunday, December 30, 2012

Another Advent and Christmas Season (Almost) Behind Us

I wish that I understood the phenomenon to some small extent, but I am at least coming to expect it. 

At these times of year, these times of anticipation and excitement, God recedes further, and further, and further into the distance.

I don't know why that should be.  People speak so frequently, and so eloquently, of the comfort provided by the presence of God.   I wonder what they know that I don't.

Have you ever looked backward through a telescope?  The image is so small ~ a miniature of itself.

We went to what used to be my home church for the midnight service on Christmas Eve ~ my own responsibilities in my own church completed a few hours earlier, I was officially on vacation.  We were last at our "old" church in 2007.  

In 2007, I was still an active elder, and a first-year seminary student who hadn't quite grasped that it would not be my home church for much longer.   And I had, of course, no idea that in 2008 we would want to erase the holiday season in its entirety from the calendar.

This year, the  service was again elegant, the music spectacular, and the milk-and-cookies afterward a wonderful time of seeing old friends.    Much laughter, and a blend of serious conversation as well, as some of the same people who had been at the outdoor memorial service a few nights previous for the young woman who had just died were there also. 

It's good to be with people who don't mind that you simply skipped the last five years.

But as worship began, as the choir sang so beautifully and the pastors spoke with such passion and joy, that was the image that came to mind: that I was looking backward through a telescope at a life that used to be mine.  They all seemed to belong to another universe entirely.  This one is so very much changed.


  1. Although I know that "life is about change", it still stuns me how truly and deeply our life has changed. We are not the same as we were, for good and bad. I am hoping God is sorting this out somewhere, shaking good out of the whole mess, like salt out of a shaker, because I honestly can't. It's not what it should be, not what it could be, it just is what it is. Still I have hope. Love to you and hopes and prayers for 2013. Thanks for being a beacon of light and my friend.

    1. Have you noticed a lot of pretending going on? I think we have clearly reached a point in the timeline where we have to keep our realities to ourselves at holiday gatherings.

  2. I wonder if "we" (meaning pastors) have a responsibility to incorporate some aspect of a Blue Christmas at every worship service in Advent/ Christmas Eve. We had to cancel our Blue Christmas (19th) due to blizzard like conditions. On Sunday (23rd) I incorporated a small part of that service. I had four short blue pillars and one tall blue pillar on a simple table. I lit the tall blue pillar from the Advent Candle. Then lit each blue candle from that. Each candle represented a part of what many people find difficult during the holidays. I had more comments and thanks on including that piece...than anything else...and my sermon was not particularly "over joyful".

    As I looked out over those gathered Christmas Eve...there was quite a bit of sadness represented.

    1. I saw that many in my congregation for whom it might have been a difficult Christmas Eve were not there -- elderly, newly widowed, without transportation and/or with adult children who attend other churches, all on a snowy evening. We need to re-think timing and transportation issues.

      I like the idea of incorporating elements of a Blue Christmas service into Advent services but honestly, for me -- I'm not sure that I have or will ever have enough distance and perspective to do it appropriately.

  3. Knowing what I know about my faith community and going through the last year, I simply cannot see Christmas as a time of joy-joy, happy-clappy celebration. For my own self, I allowed one bit of frivolity--a pair of shoes that made me feel a bit more sexy than usual (I know, I'm the priest and all that, but this is incarnation and I am finding that in a strange kind of way, the losses make it imperative that I hold on to what I can of my embodied-ness) But those shoes were pretty much tucked away under layers of vestments.

    What I have learned to put in place of all that holly-jolly is dignity, more solemnity than is usual in our Sunday liturgies, a bit more in the way of silences as well. The note of joy at our midnight service this year came in the form of quite a number of children, something we haven't seen before at that service. It is my practice to have a special children`s blessing right after I finish the eucharistic prayer and before we actually start communion. For me personally, that was the moment of almost unbearable pain. Seeing the tired, excited and expectant faces lifted up for me to make the sign of the cross on their foreheads, the feeling of that beautiful, soft, unblemished skin against my thumb. It will probably be this way for me for a long time to come, joy that is laced with sorrow. If I read the congregation right, people were well-enough pleased. It's like the magi said, "here was a Birth, certainly,
    We had evidence and no doubt. I have seen birth and death, But had thought they were different; this Birth was
    Hard and bitter agony for us". No point pretending otherwise...

  4. "I have seen birth and death, But had thought they were different; this Birth was
    Hard and bitter agony for us".

    I have read and prayed these lines 1000 times but I have suddenly seen a new ambiguity in them. Birth and death -- different -- from each other? From what we expected? From what they seem to be?

    Thank you, Rosa.