Cancelled?

The other night, after enjoying my egg drop soup from Hot Wok (a local excellent Chinese restaurant), I cracked open my fortune cookie. Would I read a gem of wisdom or a glimpse into the future? Neither. It said: “you will have a successful year.”

I dropped the fortune and laughed out loud. Really? REALLY? 2020? We’d seen the accountant for the business the day before, who summed up 2020 by saying “It’s a good year if one’s still in business.” Sadly, that is true as far too many businesses (large, such as Stage Department Stores, and small, such as our former favorite Mexican Restaurant, Los Mayas) have had to close permanently. Not even an economy that was rocking and rolling at the end of 2019 survived the CoVid shutdowns.

Christmas this year has taken on a somewhat surreal aura. Some countries have embraced their inner Grinch and have “cancelled” Christmas. I understand urging people to avoid large crowds. That’s a good idea even in a garden variety flu season for people with compromised immune systems. But how does one cancel Christmas?

Every year we grumble about the commercialization of Christmas. This year I shake my head as retail outlets feature sparkly holiday wear. Where are we gonna wear the glitz this year? Matching family pajamas are quite the rage this season, as are holiday themed masks. Never doubt the power of American ingenuity when it comes to marketing even in the midst of a crisis.

I know I’m not alone when I say that the Christmas spirit has been late in visiting me. I didn’t put up the usual tree this year, just a tabletop decoration, a tiny creche, and stockings. But…no Advent music. No choir practice for Christmas. No choir at Christmas – no vocal music at all in church. The human voice is the only musical instrument crafted by God – and it is silenced.

Yesterday, music partner Joshua and I played through some Christmas music – everything from O Come all Ye Faithful to Jingle Bell Rock. My family’s Christmas Eve celebration will be substantially smaller this year, limited only to those in our “isolation pod.” We’ll play music, and yes, sing Christmas Carols. Music is a way of prayer for me. While we always need prayer, we’ve needed it more than ever in 2020.

Too, the promise of Christmas is more timely than usual: The promise of redemption, of salvation, and the mystery of grace. Christmas should remind us that the unexpected can yield miracles. The world was waiting for a savior; and it was thought that this savior would be a mighty warrior king who would save the Jewish people from the tyranny of Rome.

Instead, they got a tiny baby who grew into a man who spoke in parables, healed the sick, worked miracles, and became enraged at the money changers in the temple. He didn’t take up arms against the Romans; instead, he became a sacrificial lamb. His disciples didn’t get it until the resurrection. We don’t get it either, but such is this human lifetime, seeing through a glass darkly.

Photo by Jessica Lewis on Pexels.com

So much has been written by great theologians about the miracles of the Incarnation and the Resurrection. This year, though, the words of the great philosopher Dr. Seuss are most appropriate:

“Every Who down in Who-ville, the tall and the small,
Was singing! Without any presents at all!
He HADN’T stopped Christmas from coming!
IT CAME!
Somehow or other, it came just the same!
And the Grinch, with his Grinch-feet ice cold in the snow,
stood puzzling and puzzling, how could it be so? It came without ribbons. It came without tags. It came without packages, boxes or bags. And he puzzled and puzzled ’till his puzzler was sore. Then the Grinch thought of something he hadn’t before. What if Christmas, he thought, doesn’t come from a store. What if Christmas, perhaps, means a little bit more.
And what happened then? Well…in Whoville they say,
That the Grinch’s small heart grew three sizes that day!”

Dr. Seuss, How the Grinch Stole Christmas

Joshua and I played and sang through Christmas carols, I felt my mood lighten. It was starting to feel like Christmas. No country, no government, no one can cancel Christmas. They can try to cancel gatherings, events, etc. But Christmas? No. Christmas comes just the same, and we are blessed and redeemed because of it.

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Greening the Season

It always makes me a little crazy when I see Christmas trees and greenery parked out by the side of the road awaiting garbage pickup – on Dec. 27. Good grief! Don’t they realize it’s TWELVE days of Christmas? I’m doing well if I have greenery in the house by Christmas Eve! And yes, it stays until Epiphany. While I’ve switched to a small “faux” tree in recent years, I do enjoy using fresh greenery. Living where I do, we have an abundance of it at hand. It’s become sort of a family tradition.

Thursday, the weather was good, and my brother, sister-and-law and I headed down the road to gather a few goodies for decorating. While south Louisiana isn’t home to lovely Fraser Fir trees and the like, we do have our share of evergreens.

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Cedar trees are everywhere. One Christmas, many years ago, we decided to cut our own tree. This was long before tree farms offered such a thing. We went along “the ditchbank” (a wooded area by the house) and chose a lovely cedar, cut it down, and brought it home. (Disclaimer: It was on family property. We weren’t poaching a tree.) It was fun, a new experience, and — very tall. About 2 feet too tall, so we had a bit of a bent-over tree, but what the heck.

Palmettos aren’t what you think of with “Christmas greens” (and neither is Spanish moss), but they are pretty handy.

Then, there’s Yaupon. This North American holly is full of berries, and grows wild along the road.

Greenery has been used since ancient times, and even before Christianity, to bring color into the homes during the darker days of winter. Even in our mild southern climate, we have a starker landscape – so we love our evergreens.

Who needs the decorating section of your local craft store when you have this amazing decor in your own backyard?

Using the same materials (OK, I skipped the palmetto), Greg and I had different styles on our doors.

But it was a fun afternoon, on the hunt for greens and “weeds” that would make the season festive.

I’ll be spending Christmas with family and friends, and plan to continue my own Christmas enjoyment throughout the season by spending time with people I love. I hope you’ll do the same, even if you can’t “visit everyone” on Christmas day. (Who can? Oh, yeah, the big Jolly Ho Ho Ho Guy. But he just drops off gifts, scarfs down milk and cookies, and takes off again, hopefully NOT leaving reindeer patties on the roof.)

Have a wonderful and blessed Christmas!

Love came down at Christmas

Last night at the Christmas Eve service, Fr. Matt gave his usual children’s sermon about the young boy, Emmanuel, who wanted to know what language God spoke. The answer, of course, is that God’s language is love. The “grown-up sermon” changes each year, but we’ve heard Emmanuel’s story before and I’m always glad to hear it again as the message remains fresh.

Some years Christmas is hard. For some people, it’s always hard. It’s a time marked by memories and traditions, and traditions change out of necessity as life changes us and our circumstances. The season smacks us in the face with happy-ending-miracles on the Hallmark channel, and we are drenched with messages of the perfect family and the happily-ever-after. Real life is so much more messy, as families deal with dysfunction, illness, division, poverty, and those loved ones who are no longer there. (Then, there are those who have no family.)

Christmas whispers in God’s language to our weary souls, and it can be hard to hear those whispers over the din of the season. Christmas whispers of hope in a broken world. Christmas reminds us that in the face of all of the messy-ness, the smallest, most seemingly inconsequential event brings love and light. I think that God often hides miracles in plain sight. Maybe Christmas will bring healing to the sick, dignity and sustenance to the impoverished, and reconciliation to the divided. Or, maybe not just yet.

If we listen, though, Christmas brings hope, light and love. We are broken, and remain in this human condition. The media’s message of Christmas is perfection in an imperfect world; the real message of Christmas is love and redemption in spite of our imperfection.

Love came down

What a relief. I invite you to let go of the “if onlys” and the “what ifs” this season. Think about God’s gift of love to the world, even if it doesn’t seem very evident to you

Love came down at Christmas, love all lovely, love divine; Love was born at Christmas, star and angels gave the sign. – Christina Rossetti, from “Love came down at Christmas”

May you have a blessed Christmas, filled with love.

image from the Graphics Fairy blog