Monday, December 26, 2011

My Zacharias (which means "the Lord recalled") Moment

            Each year I wait for it, that one moment when Christmas sort of gets me.  And I resist it. 

I didn’t used to resist.  “Getting the Christmas Spirit” was something I longed for, waited for and worried that others might achieve before me.  As a young person, I would search my soul each day after Thanksgiving and feel disappointed if I wasn’t into the spirit yet.  This was exaggerated with a stab if one of my family members or friends shouted out first, “I’ve got the Christmas Spirit!”  It was like vying to catch a cold or a cool breeze on a hot day, it was a mood you could not choose and feared might not come at all.  But it always did, eventually. 

My favorite Christmas moment was one Christmas Eve when I was about fourteen, that age for girls when everything is romantic and magical anyway.  I’m sure I’d already caught this annual mood we celebrated, but at midnight when they turned down the lights and lit candles and began to sing Silent Night, the light change caused the reflection in the huge church windows to fade and the outside spot lights suddenly unveiled a heavy fluffy snow falling.  We had not seen one flake when we entered the church that night.  Now suddenly my little corner of the world, home, church, and school was covered in the also longed for and romanticized white of Christmas.  My heart swelled, tears came to my eyes and a Christmas memory sank deep into my psyche.

But what does all that mean, really?  Isn’t this just hype and sentiment?  Are we not just caught up in a season of man made hoopla that the merchants spin out for capital gain via cheesy holiday songs, lights and decorations?  I have come to believe this.  And on Christmas night, among the pile of discarded wrapping paper I end up each year wondering where I lost my belief in the Christ child.

In recent years as I have become more Scrooge like, I blame this commercialization of Christmas that I don’t expect to “get the spirit” any more.  I decide that’s just for kids, all this talk of believing in a Santa myth.  And maybe the past few years have offered less heart swelling and magical moments because the money is tight, the economy down, and I experience an increase in conflict everywhere I look.  With so many losses and disappointments the challenges of life seem much more real than jingle bells or winter wonderlands.

I’m done with Christmas.

But then, in spite of my determined humbug I always end up with a heart filled moment. 

This year it was a strange moment that no one else noticed.  I was exasperated with the children’s pageant.  I suggested a plan for rehearsals, costumes, casting and music – keep it simple and include all children who are interested.  As most efforts go, there were the usual problems.  I was frustrated and couldn’t keep up with the schedule changes, couldn’t make it to some of the times the others wanted to meet, felt left out, unappreciated, overwhelmed and greatly disappointed in the final outcome at dress rehearsal.  I was so convinced this production could be so much better if only people would cooperate.

But it was precious when the children lined up in cute costumes in front of families with candles and greenery and we all sang O Little Town of Bethlehem together.  It was lovely, it was all it should or could be and I sighed and eased into the realization that the Christ Mass always has and ever shall be a celebration of the messiness of the humanity that God chose to become incarnate into.

But that’s not when it hit me.

After the children got everybody else’s goat and filed out of the church and the hymn was over and we stood for the creed, I suddenly could not speak.  In the chaos of little inexperienced actors, I could see what no one else could see.  They left the baby doll, wrapped in some outgrown blankie laying in a poorly painted shoe box, they left it, just laying there on the steps of the chancel discarded, alone and forgotten.  No!  Why didn’t’ we remind them to bring all props off stage when done?  Could someone please grab that?  Could someone sneak over there unnoticed and move it away before it’s seen?  It was like a huge faux pas that was going to ruin what was left of a bad production!

And that’s when my heart swelled and the tears of joy came and like Zacharias I was struck dumb.  That was my Christmas moment this year.  Why?  Because that’s when I was surprised once again by the Christmas story.  The child born of Mary stayed.  Jesus stayed and lived a lonely and dangerous life of vulnerability and sacrifice just to teach us how to love.  And while most humans ever since, those who knew him well like St. Peter and those who really don’t get it, all of us at one time or another, betray and disregard the King of Heaven, he stays anyway.  That’s just the way the story goes.

So, after all the discarded glitter is cleared away and we stand for the creed and we remember again the mystery of incarnation, this is when the Christ Mass begins, this is when the work of carrying the Christ child into the world begins, the moment we are re-called.  And in the next moment, like Zacharias our voices become free again and we sing praises to God.

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