[Editor’s Note: Laura Boggs has been a friend since I first met her at Hutchmoot, and she’s been a good friend and writing partner of Lanier Ivester for far longer than that. She’s a fine writer and you should bounce over to her blog and have a look around right after you read this fine Christmas meditation. -Pete Peterson]
We do it every year. It’s always there, the unspoken expectation that this Christmas will be bigger and shinier and sweeter than the one before.
By the end of Christmas Day, when the shreds of paper and ribbon are picked up off the floor and we can’t possibly eat another morsel, if the topics of politics and religion have been successfully dodged and no one got sick and everyone is feeling fat and happy, we might look at each other in triumph and breathe. We did it. We had the best Christmas ever. Again.
But every Christmas has its cares. Sometimes the pain is acute and we feel cheated. Other years we find we can’t conjure up feelings of good will toward men, not when we’re in line at Wal-mart, at least. There’s always somebody or something missing, even if we can’t put our finger on it. What do you think about when the church lights are dimmed and you’re holding the little candle you’ve been issued and you’re trying not to get wax on your Christmas Eve finest as you sing ‘Silent Night’? Why the lump in the throat?
After my grandfather died one December, I shared a hymnal with my Nana during service and heard her voice crack with fresh grief. A few years later, when she was gone too, my sad ‘Silent Night’ was for her. Or was it? Maybe it was relief, in some strange way, to have a reason to be melancholy. I’m not talking about being moved by the symbol of the Light in the darkness. I’m talking poor me, a sense that all is not right with the world at a moment when it should at least seem to be.
During my self-absorbed teenage years, the awkward and lonely years that follow childhood wonder, the littlest nothing could put a dent in a perfectly decent Christmas. Those were the days of a boy not calling for a promised New Year’s date so aren’t all those sad songs on the radio just for me, and no one understands, and why aren’t I having as much fun as I used to—and what am I looking for?
What I had not found, I could not name and, for the most part, knew of only through my sense of its precious and puzzling and haunting absence. And maybe we can never name it by its final, true, and holy name, and maybe it is largely through its absence that, this side of Paradise, we will ever know it.
~ from The Sacred Journey by Frederick Buechner
I’ve since been crowned mistress of my household’s Christmas. Cares still come, of course. There was the Christmas three years ago when, Sadie, our special needs six-year-old became alarmingly lethargic, and we found ourselves in the emergency room on Christmas Eve. Never did Doritos from a vending machine taste more stale. But we got to go home and put Sadie to bed and eat a midnight meal by firelight, and she got well a few days later. I often wonder about those Whos down in Who-ville, who fah who forazed and dah who dorazed minus all the trimmings. Would I have it in me to do that?
Last Christmas Eve, with my candle lit, I watched Sadie, who had a seizure at the service’s start and was content to rest her curly head on her daddy’s shoulder, her long, dark eyelashes framing sleepy eyes. I tried not to think about her seizures or her surgery scheduled for the next week. Who ever thought we’d need a neurosurgeon? But even on Christmas Eve, one can never entirely leave the world behind, and although the world is full of gifts and splendor, they are sometimes wrapped in sorrow and trials. I think we take stock of things at Christmas, whether we set out to or not.
I took stock a few months after Sadie was born, and there was a flash of an instant when these shadowlands felt almost like home. The Spouse and I had come home late one Saturday night from a beautiful Christmas party, and I cradled my newest girl in my arms, sitting on the couch with my dress spilling around and the house quiet and the tree lights golden and I thought everything was strangely perfect. That was folly, and I knew it at the time, which marred the lovely moment a little.
I resist the marred moments—doesn’t everyone?—trying especially hard to avoid them during the time of the year most wonderful. But something has finally sunk in this year, and I think it would make those Whos proud, though I’m ashamed it has taken this long to feel like I could fah who foraze with the best of them. At the risk of sounding like a simpleton, I’ll tell you what my mind has finally whispered to my heart: Christmas is not about me.
We wish each other merry Christmas, and that is all fine and good. Then we ask each other, “How was your Christmas?” But at some level, we forget that Christmas just is, no matter how we celebrate or with whom or whether we altogether ignore the whole business. No matter what, a baby was born in a stable and God came and humbled himself and lived with us to serve and died for us to save.
Love came down, and a free gift (no strings attached) is offered to everyone, even me. There’s not a thing I—or my circumstances—can add or subtract to that.