It's the most WONDERFUL time of the year! So the old song goes. In the minds of many Christmas is a time of joy and happiness. Christmas is about carols, chocolates, children, and community. It involves Christmas parties and presents. It is a season when the world can pause from the everyday grind and talk about peace, hope, joy and love.
Well the truth can be somewhat different than our perceptions. For some people Christmas is anything but happy. Maybe this is the first year after a death in the family. Maybe this year one of the children isn’t coming home for the holidays. Maybe this is the first time you can't get home to be with family. Maybe there is added stress and anxiety because of your economic situation and the expectation to buy gifts. For a variety of reasons Christmas can be very difficult.
It is hard to go against the expectations around us. When people expect us to be happy and joyful it is difficult to tell them that we aren’t feeling that way. But it is important that people have a place and a chance to be honest with themselves and their family and friends about what they are feeling.
Last Sunday in our worship service I gave the congregation at St. Paul's a challenge. I work from the assumption that we all know someone for whom Christmas is difficult. And as members of a community of love we have an ethical duty to support other members of that community. So I share the challenge with all of you out there, if you know someone for whom Christmas is difficult this year, to help provide that place and opportunity to be honest about what we are feeling this Christmas. Together we can help each other cope with the ups and downs of life. I think that would be a great Christmas gift to give each other.
And now, because I think Christmas is mainly about stories, here is a story of someone who found a way to make a stranger's Christmas just a bit better:
The wind gusted, sending the fresh snow swirling around the lamp post. Miriam shivered, pulling the thin coat tighter around her chest. “Gonna be a cold one tonight,” she muttered, squinting through the darkness.
A little further down the block was the big old church. Miriam remembered going there as a child, remembered the beautiful stained glass windows. Suddenly a friendly voice boomed in her ear. “Merry Christmas! Please come and join us for worship!”
Miriam looked around, wondering who the cheerful man was talking to. Surely it couldn’t be her. Christmas Eve was a special service, someone wearing an old coat and wrapped in a hand-me-down blanket didn’t fit in with the fancy dresses and bright lights. But there was nobody else around. “Ar-are you talking to m-m-me?” she asked.
“Of course my dear,” the greeter replied. “Come in and warm up at least.” Miriam could hardly believe her ears; certainly a chance to get out of the wind was welcome. Gratefully she made her way up the old stone stairs and snuck into a pew way at the back of the sanctuary, just as the opening notes of the first hymn were being played.
As she listened to the familiar old carols Miriam couldn’t help remembering the Christmases of her childhood. Things were so much happier, so much simpler then. “What had gone wrong?” she muttered to herself. Then the pageant started. Watching Mary and Joseph get turned away from the inn Miriam felt her heart reach out to them. She knew what it meant to have nowhere to go.
After the service, Miriam started to wrap herself in the blanket again and sneak out without being seen. No luck. The greeter was right there beside her again. “Where will you sleep tonight?” he asked. Miriam said nothing, just looked away.
Finally she looked up, “I don’t know, there was no room at the shelter.”
“Well that will never do” the young man said. He paused for a moment then a smile came back to his face. “You will come to my parent’s house with me,” he said. The story we just heard reminds us that there should always be room at the inn somewhere.
It might have been a trick of the light and wind. But at that moment Miriam was sure that the greeter’s face was shining, just like the angel in the window behind her. And somewhere she heard voices singing “Hallelujah!”…
May God grant you the Merriest possible Christmas and Blessings in 2013!