Thursday, December 19, 2019

Merry Christmas, to all waiting.

This morning I woke up at 4:45 to bake the appetizer Brian had to bring to his holiday party at work. As I was brushing maple syrup onto the bacon-wrapped stuffed dates I'd assembled the day before, I heard William call for me feebly from upstairs. "I don't feel good," he told me, and sure enough, the fever he'd had at bedtime was still burning. I carried him downstairs, thankful that I still can carry my big boy, when he vomited over my shoulder onto the wood floor behind me. I arched my back and held very still until he was done. Poor Will; of all our family members, he is disproportionately afflicted with these bouts of stomach flu.

I was supposed to make a trip to the grocery store last night for more baking ingredients. The day's mess in the kitchen, however, was so overwhelming that I figured I'd tackle it first, and of course I didn't finish in time to head to the store. Really, I would've been too exhausted anyway. Now I find myself with a sick little boy stuck on the couch and no ingredients to finish my baking and you know what? This is a gift. I get a day to take care of my boy, a day that tethers us home and makes us read those Christmas books that have been piled in the book nook. (Let's hope he can rally in time to enjoy them.)

Maybe today will finally bring us those peaceful moments I've been wanting.

My parents gave us the warmest, most wonderful Christmases I can imagine. They are some of my most vivid childhood memories. My mom told me, when I'd become an adult, that since there wasn't much money, they wanted to make Christmas more about the traditions than the gifts. There were always both, of course, but maybe their emphasis on tradition really made it magical.

December was the most dilatory month of the year, offering in exchange for its agonizing crawl excitement like church caroling, candy houses with the Missionettes, and the school Christmas play. When Christmas Break finally began, it was just the six of us- my parents, my brothers, my sister, and me. Christmas Eve was my favorite day of the year, eclipsing Christmas Day only barely, by its added luster of anticipation. At Christmas Eve dinner, we ate artichokes and cheese fondue, with cookies for dessert brought over by various friends and neighbors. For many years, until we were too cool for it, we'd film our own little version of the nativity story in Luke. My dad would be the innkeeper; Erin and Matthew would be Mary and Joseph, Joel was a shepherd and I the attention-hogging angel. My mom filled in the undesirable roles - the donkey, an extra shepherd. We'd tape it with the camcorder and watch it together afterward. Then there were family devotions, and: "Okay, you guys can open just ONE present!" Then there were snacks- pigs in a blanket, nachos. We'd stay up late, playing video games together. One year- I must have been older- twelve?- we opened a Playmobil Nativity, and Erin and I played for hours.

Finally in bed, I'd lie awake, watching the pattern of headlights play on my ceiling, listening to my parents wrap gift together in the basement. I could not possibly wait until morning. How could it be so far away?

My siblings and I grew up with an intense love of Christmas, though I think we've all struggled with the transition from "childhood Christmas" to "adult Christmas." I'm thirty-two years old now, and each year I find myself farther (not in time, but in experience) from that magical holiday feeling. The hustle of this time of year is completely antithetical to what Christmas used to feel like, what Christmas should be. What it has become for me, and for many, I think, is a time of hectic frenzy: late nights, long lists, days that fly by, traditions cast to the wayside. (I don't really know how to change this. I think it would involve breaking a lot of the expectations required by the ties we share with our supportive community, and I don't believe my selfish desire for tranquility is worth that.)

Anyway, Christmas is, and should be, a time of waiting.

The Jews were waiting, had been waiting, for their Messiah. For over four hundred years, not a single prophet had entered the scene. I wonder if the Jews, suffering under Roman rule, suspected God had forgotten them.

And then, unexpectedly, a baby, born of poverty and shame. A beginning. No deliverance yet: just a promise. Christ was The Word, a physical embodiment of the intentional, spoken order that brings the chaos and uncertainty of our lives into submission.

That uncertainty lingers. Millenia later, we are all still waiting now. Waiting for something. Change, maybe, or resolution. An end to something, or a beginning. We are all waiting. And just as the Jews could not make their Messiah happen by strength of will, most of us cannot bring about that change for which we wait. Despite all the mastery and discipline capable of the human spirit, in some way we are all nevertheless, unavoidably, in "the fell clutch of circumstance." Christmas is the time for us to recognize that wait, the time of year we hallow it, hold it in our hands, and make our peace with it. Christmas is waiting, distilled.

When I become overwhelmed by the minutiae of the Christmas season, as I do each day, I close my eyes and find myself alone, at night, in the snow. I can feel myself there almost tangibly, surrounded by blue spruce trees and gazing upward at stars so brilliant they outshine the moon. It is perfectly still and quiet. I don't know what I'm doing there, but I know that I'm waiting, and it feels like Christmas.

I won't be alone in the snow at midnight, today, but I'll be in the living room with my children, in front of the fire, with something warm in the oven and the Polar Express playing, experiencing their impatience for Christmas Day. That will be enough.

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