I’m learning what pastors around the globe know so well: that Christmas Is Different For Pastors.
The same truth reverberates – Emmanuel, God With Us. It has, however, sunk in that this year I work Christmas Eve and Christmas Day, and not only work, but serve to fashion a threshold between tired hungry human hearts and the Trinity. The Advent season has been joyous at church, candles lit every week, new faces showing up in worship; in the past week I’ve swung from sitting with a family while a woman has knee surgery to taking the youth roller skating to chatting with a young woman who faces her first Christmas without her mom, a cancer victim, all the while catching Christmas songs on the radio, trying to keep my own Advent calendar up to date and trying new spritz cookie recipes until I’m too tired to keep my eyes open. At 7:30 last night I told my husband I was going to bed, then discovered once there that my mind was whirring.
I love Christmas. My favorite time of year, and this year, I’m enjoying watching my little one rip paper off packages and exclaim delight at illuminated yards.
I wonder if the poinsettias are watered. I haven’t watched It’s a Wonderful Life yet this year. I need to call and ask who organizes the handheld candles for the Christmas Eve service.
Lots of “I” there, I see. The truth is, don’t say a prayer for pastors just because it’s a busy season, it’s busy for everyone.
Say a prayer for those like me who are homesick or grieving. Those are the emotionally draining things, truly, not busy hubbub. I’m not the only one. Many people in this economy see their loved ones less, and many people grieve during the holidays. Pray for them too. For those separated by distance, separated by hurtful choices, separated by necessity. I think of military families and marvel at their daily strength. It was a tiring Christmas for Mary, after all – travel over bumpy paths nine months pregnant, then labor pains, then visitors kept bothering her blabbering about visions. I think it took a year or two for the wise men to arrive just to make sure Mary wouldn’t tell them where to stick their frankincense.
Truth is, it’s hard to feel Not Your Best or Not Your Holiest at Christmas, when you love the season and deeply want to create space for others to worship. Silly human instinct, really, to want to dress up to visit the Manger.
Most of us don’t overly love “Little Drummer Boy,” but I do, because sometimes I’m keenly aware that all I have to offer the Baby is the ability to bang loudly on a potentially annoying instrument. No bank account of gold, no Neiman Marcus myrrh, just myself, rhythm, playing in thanks for God With Us. Here’s my rhythm, Lord. My excitement at your birth. It’s all I have.
I think that times like these, it’s important to step back a bit and consciously adopt a posture of receiving, rather than one of acting. There are times when you build character, and times when you draw on character – and I think, in seasons of unexpected limitations, it’s important to passively allow God to take you where God will.
Advent is to be received, not performed (pastors – take note). Childbirth is both acting – hey, there’s a reason it’s called labor – and receiving – you’re receiving this child, this experience, whatever it entails. Jesus’ Incarnation was not initiated by humans: that is one of the most important implications of the Virgin Birth. Jesus came, unexpected, uninvited, uncreated.
Receive Christ, then, this season, as you do in Holy Communion. You can put up a tree: you cannot create Christmas. You can get a great deal on The Toy for your kid: you cannot create Christmas. We receive Christmas.
Receive Christ, and the celebration of his birth, this year, and be blessed.
This first appeared in 2011 on The Threadbare Couch.
Featured image courtesy Sixteen Miles Out via Unsplash.