God come to earth?Merry Christmas, everyone. And trust me, Wayne...I believe...I really do...
A virgin birth?
No! - How could anybody believe?
(Wayne Watson, One Christmas Eve)
It's been an odd Christmas holiday, for a number of reasons.
First, my sisters and their husbands and I didn't buy a single Christmas present for each other. Third year running, in fact. One sister has been struggling with finances for years; I've been struggling with mine ever since my ill-fated run at ministry nearly 30 months ago; and one gets completely overwhelmed by the whole gift-buying-wrapping thing. So we haven't been able to find much involvement with the whole "Christmas-is-just-so-damn-stressful" thing...because we opted out of the whole commercialism thing. Felt pretty good, too.
There are two important caveats to that "commercialism-free" claim: the grocery store and the meat market.
Christmas is still a time of feasting in our family circles. Christmas Friday was a journey down to Tony's Ribs in Findlay (in lieu of making Sandy cook), and then an extended round of turkeyfoot and lots of holiday memories. Oh, and Magic Bars. You just can't have Christmas in our family without Magic Bars. Lots of them, actually.
Christmas Eve night, Sue and Jeff had sister Sandy, and Jeff's side of the family, over for dinner. Pulled-pork sandwiches, peel-n-eat shrimp, and all kinds of accompaniments were the fare on the eve. Unfortunately, something in the feast didn't agree with Sue & Jeff (although everyone else was fine) and by the time 9:45 PM rolled around, both of them were dealing with significant gastric distress. So for the first time in a long, long time, I didn't go to Christmas eve service, but stayed around with them, to make sure they were OK. I have to admit - that felt pretty weird.
It's not that I missed the particular service at the LCMS church Jeff's family attends - I've never been overly impressed with the pastor, his preaching, or the particularly cool reception I get as an outsider. And since I am not a Missouri-Synod-branded Lutheran (and don't subscribe to their particular interpretation of transsubstantiation, taking communion at their church every Christmas Eve has ended up being my one act of liturgical rebellion each year. So while it felt somehow empty to not be in worship on Christmas Eve, I didn't really miss being there, to be honest.
For Christmas Day, I had planned to attend Cedar Creek Church in Perrysburg, of which I had heard all kinds of good buzz in the local Christian radio and media. But lo and behold, when I checked their service times this morning, it turns out that they were not having services on Christmas morning. (Seems they were following the lead of Willow Creek and other Protestant megachurches in not offering services on Christmas Day - though they are offering New Years' Day services. Just forgive me, because I'm not even gonna pursue that little bit of market-driven insanity...)
Yeah, I probably could have found somewhere else to go. Yes, it was probably sloth and inertia on my part. But I didn't. And that felt weird, too...but not so terribly wrong as I would have thought it would have felt.
Back to Christmas eve morning, the 7:30 AM "Early Bird" AA meeting had about a hundred people - overflowing the room with people celebrating a sober holiday (some for the first time). The new folks were wondering how people actually made it through holidays sober - and the folks with some sober time were sharing their experience, strength and hope. It was an amazing, gratitude-filled time.
Christmas Day brought yet another feast with Sue's in-laws - plus calls from friends and family around the country - but yet not so many as in years past. And a number of calls I made to friends went unanswered. That felt weird, as well.
So I have to admit that while I'm grateful for my family, and for the gifts that God has put into my life, I feel more apart from what I've known as sweet fellowship in quite a while.
That dissatisfaction with the institutional church has been growing for a while - and it certainly wasn't helped by people who felt they could speak for the Church universal with statements like this one:
"Every company in America should be on its knees thanking Jesus for being born. Without Christmas, most American businesses would be far less profitable; more than enough reason for businesses to be screaming Merry Christmas." -- Bill O'Reilly, Fox Talk Show host who is leading the "Christian" defense in the "War on Christmas", The O'Reilly Factor, November 28(If you really wanted to pursue this, my friend Tom posted this great item which says it better than I could ever say it.)
So the holiday scores a 10 on the "being connected with family" score, and a 3 on the "participating in the life of the faith community" scale. I'm grateful for what I have - and I'm not quite sure how to find my way back to what I missed this year. But I know I've got some miles to go on that score.
For now, I'll see my sister Sue off to work later on today, hook up with some old friends here, and then make my way back to the greater Chicagoland area in the afternoon. Hopefully the wet, slushy snow that's been falling will clear off by then, and I'll have smooth and safe driving as I head "westbound-and-down."
And I'll trust that "Emmanuel" is not someone who just shows up on Christmas Eve, but truly God with us who will be with us every single moment of today, and every day.
That thought alone is worth celebrating...