We Christians properly celebrate the birth of Jesus now. Not that we know a date or time of year this child came into the world. Not that we really understand the how of it. The idea of an Incarnation--of God becoming human--really is beyond our grasp and if accepted, must be accepted in faith. Not that we've even got the facts straight about the Holy Night. Everyone has a slightly different story or take on what happened. Nonetheless, we Christians for the most part acknowledge that we need to stop the December craziness long enough to at least listen once more to the good news and to consider its implications for our lives.
As I listen to the music, I hear that many of the most glorious Christmas songs do much more than suggest we should be happy about the birth of Jesus. They call us to worship; they call us to bow the knee and even fall on our faces in awe. They insist we look as ourselves as ones needing this child to be born and show us the way, the truth and the life.
I'm one who needs much solitude, perhaps much more than many others, so I have to be careful about putting too much emphasis on such alone times. Even saying that, however, I do wonder how one can live intentional, self-aware lives without some time spent alone (even when others are around) pondering the nature of our own soul and our relationship to something holy and wholly beyond us.
I listen to this great music, and wonder how these composers came up with it. Surely they gave themselves time and space to integrate their musical gifts with their spiritual lives. Surely they were willing to be bored and lonely and fearful and even hungry and cold for the sake of something greater. And all that brings me to the melancholy that permeates much of the greatest of real Christmas music, as opposed to the holiday overly sickly-sweet jingles that fill too much of the airtime.
Even the most joyous of this great music seems tinged with awareness that we humans are just getting a peek at something so far beyond us that we must recognize our frailty and finiteness in the light of unlimited eternity bursting into our limited world.
In my first paragraph, I wrote that I am alone in the house on Christmas. I have a sense that many reading that will say, "Oh, how awful. Poor thing." This response paints solitariness in a "not quite good enough" category. So why am I alone? Is this a bad thing? I just recently received a message from a good friend who noted that her extended family gathering was about to send her into the screaming-meemies. Could it be that being not alone may have its own down sides?
Anyway, first of all, I am alone because of the challenge of dealing with broken marriages over holidays. Who spends time with whom when? Sometimes, others need to get priority here. This is a good thing. Tug-of-wars here only harm, not help.
Second, I am alone because death does not delay even for Christmas. My husband, who often handles funerals for families who want a clergy person but who do not have a local one, received a call from a funeral home in Dallas needing him urgently to come and care for a family. This is also a good thing. He brings his healing gifts to the grieving.
Third, I am alone because, even though this is Christmas Day, it is also Saturday, and a Saturday after an unusually busy week, and things must be done in order to be prepared to offer to my congregation the very best I have on Sunday. Therefore, it is a work day for me.
There will be few in worship tomorrow--the vast majority of my congregation have traveled away this weekend. I particularly noticed that last night at our Christmas Eve service. Even with a packed room, I knew only about 30% of the people there. Most of mine were elsewhere--and those who are normally elsewhere, were with us. But for those few who will attend in the morning, I have an obligation to offer all of my gifts as their pastor. So, I must have time to prepare, to think and pray, and to organize my thoughts. For me, this is best done alone, not interacting with others.
So I content myself here, surrounded by books, music, warmth, and a beautiful awareness of the holy presence of God. This is indeed Christmas.