I have always loved Christmas: the decorations, the special services at church, the parties, the time off. When I was young, the gifts were part of the attraction, but over time getting gifts has become much less important than giving them.
One of the main things I’ve loved about Christmas through the years is the event it celebrates. For a long time the wonder of it was both the foundation under everything else and a patina of joy on everything else.
The last few years, though, have shaken my attraction to Christmas and clouded the joy of the season. The self-congratulatory certainty of the religious right, combined with their politics of hate and their one-inch-deep theology, have almost driven me to despair. The current grace-less-ness of many Christians, who take offense at “happy holidays” but are more than willing to offend others, just makes me wonder why we persist in majoring on the minors. And if I see another Santa as part of a nativity scene, I think I’ll scream.
In the midst of my ennui, there are two things that draw me back, that begin to restore the joy of the season: the church I attend, and music.
The church is an amazing place: a mixture of challenge and acceptance, of God-talk and people-care, of moving worship and fun times, of a gentle but persistent focus on God in Christ AND what does that mean for each of us. It is the most emotionally healthy church I’ve ever been a part of, and also the most spiritually challenging.
And then there is the music. Somehow music gets past the oxidation of daily life, and begins to restore the patina of joy. It can be sacred — almost any of Rutter’s music, an anthem at church, even the Messiah — or not-so-sacred, such as the December album of George Winston or the Mannheim Steamroller pieces. I listen to the Mannheim “Silent Night” and the cool wind of a Bethlehem hillside brushes my face, and I imagine myself standing at a slight distance, looking down on a just-born baby and pondering the meaning of all I have seen and heard. And Christmas comes again.
When I was a child Christmas was both innocent and magical. Now that I am older it has lost its innocence. My wish for all this year, and every year, is not to regain the innocence of our childhood Christmases; it is instead that in the midst of our all-too-familiar weariness with both the world and with religion, we can somehow rediscover the magic, the wonder, the possibilities of that night. To paraphrase our pastor’s standard benediction — Now we leave this form of Christmas, to resume the Christmas that is our very lives. Go in peace and be Christmas for each other and for all you meet.