In a silly conversation last week about what lights are really right for a Christmas tree (white or multi-colored; blinking or steady), I confessed, I don’t put up a tree any more. The kids are grown. I live alone…
I’ve become a minimalist with Christmas decorations. This year, there’ll be a two-foot tall clear glass vase on the dining room table. In it, a single leafless branch (remember last Sunday’s Jeremiah 33:14-16) will be decked with twelve, teeny, one-inch red and green glass ornaments.
Ah, the outcry. One person worried I have no Christmas spirit. Another was “outraged” I am free enough not to have a tree. Or, perhaps, I ‘m a Scrooge. Or a person who suffers from “Christmas depression.” The variety and vehemence of responses made me laugh out loud.
“Don’t you of all people understand how central a tree is to what God means at Christmas?” One might have thought that I, a Christian minister, had just confessed to never having believed in God.
There are as many props as ways of celebrating Christmas. Our church folks are lighting Advent wreaths at home this year. Others follow an Advent calendar. More people serve shelter dinners at this time of year. A colleague of mine chooses four prayer concerns for Advent and twelve for the days of Christmas… and redoubles his efforts to have a prayerful life.
Some of us will be volunteering at our shelter, so the guys can stay all day on Christmas. Another friend is volunteering to work with children who don’t have safe homes. Someone else decided after this week’s Daily Devotional from the UCC, that he was going to celebrate St. Nicholas Day today.
One can be a Christian without keeping Christmas at all: the Pilgrims, for instance, had no such celebration as there was no reference for such a day in the Bible (and, truth be told, they were in an over-reactive protest phase against the developments of 1600 years of church history — which they dismissed — baby with the bathwater — as “too much human invention” and “not enough God.”)
As a pastor for the last 22 years, I have had more than enough Christmas celebration. In my profession, you can’t pick and choose which church events to squeeze in — in between the other activities of the season, i.e. shopping and decorating one’s home, and going to the kids’ school’s holiday events, etc. Instead, I go to church-related parties, and Christmas concerts, and caroling (some years multiple times) and all the services. I expect to be one of the few who will attend all the Sundays of the season, outdoor Christmas Eve at 5 and Candlelight at 8, Christmas Day service at 5 and Watch Night on New Year’s Eve… There’s enough to remind me what time of year it is, and what it’s all about!
Since coming to Old First, there has been one new experience added to my Christmas list. You may have guessed: the creche’. But for me, it’s not the creche’ itself, so much as caring for the animals. Heading out into the cold, checking on them; filling the food trough and the water buckets; mucking the corral.
Each year has had its own highlight. That first year it was making sure there was fresh water that wasn’t frozen during the blizzard (while the sheep stood stupidly in the open with a foot of snow on their backs).The second year, I had to keep this homeless guy out of the corral: he just wanted “to feed and pet the animals.” Or last year, trying to protect Mindy from the over-amorous cow who was smitten with her.
Amidst all the harried, busyness and overloaded schedules of the season, I appreciate the certain regularity of twice a day needing to care for the animals. Last year, having Old First Christmas schedules and a church brochure that were very popular, I also had to keep filling literature distribution boxes.
Most of the morning and evening slots for manger care this season are already taken. But, curiously, there’s only four of us doing it. Others are invited, encouraged to try. Even just one shift. We can give you complete instructions. And the animals are far from wild. You can sign up right here on-line!
Ever wish you had for more experience of God entering into the hardships of our world at Christmas? Need help remembering that God didn’t come to a palace, but to a peasant family? Wonder what it really means that God became flesh… a creature… one more living, hungry, vulnerable animal needing all the basics of life?
I can’t think of any better celebration than shoveling the dung, filling the manger with straw and the troughs with water. It’s sort of basic, even elemental.
We need your help. But it might just help you too.
And however you figure out you will celebrate Christmas, may it bring you a sense of God’s presence and love…
See you in church,