Like every other pastor, I struggle with the Christmas Eve sermon.  Having spent the year with church members standing by a graveside, or sitting in a claustrophobic hospital consult room, or handing out tissues when there are no words, I wonder what to say when I look into their eyes on Christmas Eve.  The good news surrounds their bad news, and still the bad news isn’t erased from their lives.  On the other hand, I also feel like I owe the church guests more than a blues-filled downer of a sermon.  If they’re only going to come once a year, this is the night for a word of hope.  Our bloggers have a similar kind of double vision about the holidays, writing about the real Christmas behind what we see. 

For anyone eating Christmas dinner at the hospital, Stacy N. Sergent offers a prayer, including, “Some of us know that life will never be the same after this Christmas. We are looking into the eyes of a loved one, or the eyes in the mirror, knowing they won’t be here next year. We are waiting to welcome a new baby, or saying goodbye to the one we so desperately wanted. We know this will forever be remembered in our family as the Christmas of the accident, the diagnosis, the shooting, the fire. We didn’t expect the screech of tires, or the sudden onset of symptoms, or the frantic phone call to bring us to this place. But here we are.”

Mags Blackie suffers from motion sickness which lasts even after she’s done with any form of transport, and then subsides.  She suggests that we can view our holiday gatherings as “e-motion sickness,” wondering if there is “a good lesson here. Family gatherings can bring unwelcome turbulence, but what if we don’t take any of it too seriously. What if we let the emotional queasiness simply be and recognise that we are all in the same boat? What if we let the slights or oversights or over-reactions simply be, and not ascribe malice or ill-will to any of it? Not to take any argument as a sign of deeper pathology in relationship, but simply to recognise the turbulence of the period. Perhaps to pray for the grace of generosity of spirit and a willingness to forget.” 

You may be feeling out of step with the cultural Christmas around us.  If so, Kristin Berkey-Abbott shares the layers of that in her own life, starting with the weather and ending with a meditation on Christian feast days through the year.  She invites us to consider the calendar of faith from a different viewpoint.  “For someone who celebrates feast days, the Christmas season is also a disconnect.  I am late to the feast day celebrations, so I don’t have a long tradition with this disconnect.  Many of us will get to experience this disconnect on Sunday if we go to churches where we will hear about Herod.  But yesterday was the feast day of Saint Stephen, the first Christian martyr, and the Christmas stories never travel far from deeply threatening.  Individuals are threatened, empires are threatened, subcultures are threatened.” 

Seeing behind the perfect looking Christmas cards and photos, Sally C. sees that they “Tell one story / And veil another, Yet when we choose To let love will win, / To let love overcome / And we are not hiding / And when we choose life / As life has chosen us / And when we see beyond the faults and flaws that irritate…And bind each other carefully / Then healing begins, And we travel together / Slowly becoming whole…”

Can you change a long held Christmas tradition?  You can try, as Michelle Francl-Donnay tells us.  She invites into her cookie baking, saying, “Spritz cookies have been a Christmas tradition in my house as long as I can remember, pressed out of a bronze-colored cookie press. I loved looking at the dies when I was young, wondering what shapes each would make. My mother always made Christmas trees and wreaths, but what I wanted to try was the camel.” 

Are your holiday traditions changing this year?  Do the holidays feed your spirit with food, family gatherings and traditions filling the days?  Or do the holidays fray your spirit with the exact same things? We would love to hear your thoughts in the comments section below. 

Mary Austin is the pastor of Gaithersburg Presbyterian Church, a Presbyterian Church just far enough from Washington, DC.  She is a contributor to The Road to Hallelujah  and the author of Meeting God at the Mall.

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