Okay, so I love Christmas just as much as the other happy “Hey, let’s make this the merriest one ever” jolly spend-til-we-drop Memory Makers. I have lovely memories of Christmas morning with our twins, Grace and Graham, and their look of awe as they surveyed the mountains of presents under the tree. I inherited this “find the perfect gift” mentality from my parents who spared no expense to buy my sister and me every conceivable thing we ever wanted (and things we hadn’t even dreamed that we wanted) on Christmas morning. Christmas was the day that we tucked in, marveling at our good fortune for having such a perfect family. Presents, stolen (without the yucky dried fruit), hot chocolate with too many marshmallows. Just us. Just lovely. Just peaceful.
Except, that’s not real life.
Real life is heart wrenching. At Christmas time, the wounds burst open and if you spend even a second thinking about the world, you’ll have to fight the urge to crawl into a fetal position, praying for a New and Better Year.
I noticed my attitude toward Christmas starting to change once our kids were adults, long out of the house, and we had become Anglicans. Anglicans are flat out weird about Christmas. First, the holiday doesn’t even really start until Christmas Day. And then you have to go on and on until Epiphany. Finally, the season ends and you ride the train to Easter.
There are decorations in the church, but they are sparse. We have a lovely gigantic fir near the front of the sanctuary. As of today, it only has white lights on it. It makes me want to cry every time I walk by it as the Altos head down that side of the aisle during the processional hymn.
During this time of Advent, I’ve heard sermons about the Baby Jesus—but always in the context of the Crucifixion. (Is there anything more brutal than that?) And I’ve practiced and practiced our choir songs for this season. Some of the songs are glorious and upbeat. (Think Handel’s “And the Glory of the Lord,” which we are singing tomorrow for the Third Sunday in Advent.)
But tonight, for Lessons and Carols, we are singing some doozies. I just finished practicing “Come, Renew Us” and I can’t stop the tears. Here are the words:
Come, Lord, come to us, enter our darkness with your light.
Fill our emptiness with your presence.
Come, refresh, restore, renew us.
In our sadness, come as joy.
In our troubles, come as peace.
In our fearfulness, come as hope.
In our darkness, come as light.
In our frailty, come as strength.
In our loneliness, come as love.
My sister in law is a new widow, getting ready to navigate her first Christmas without her husband. My daughter’s sister in law is getting ready to face the holiday as both a new widow and a heartbroken mother who has lost two children because of a horrific small plane crash this week in Alaska.
Life forever shattered.
How do humans work through that? Honestly, I don’t know how those suffering handle the pain. But the only thing I do know is that in our darkness, Jesus comes as hope.
This Christmas season, I’m singing about emptiness, fearfulness, sadness, frailty. This is how I’m celebrating. Come, Lord, come to us, enter our darkness.