It Only Happens Once A Year

One of my friends sent me the video link of a large chorus committing “a random act of culture” by breaking into Handel’s “Messiah” in Philadelphia’s downtown Macy’s.

Well, it used to be Wanamaker’s, but it is now a Macy’s. And that is a telling metaphor for life and Christmas if you need one. A beloved regional department store now just one of hundreds in a chain of stores, and the timeless beauty of the Hallelujah Chorus meet head on at Christmas time. I’ll bet you know who the winner is. The music of Christmas is one of those tangible delights that color the intangible sense we believe is Christmas.

The Christmas’ of our past are viewed in our minds eyes with color and nostalgia. We remember the shiny bike, the snowfall, the decorations as all a part of the holiday. They become Christmas. And many of us spend many hours go trying to recreate them each year. It’s why the tradition of Christmas cookies goes on. It’s within our power to sift, measure and bake the smells and tastes of Christmas. Even the non-bakers among us attempt to bake “from scratch” cookies they would never make any other time of the year.
We all head out to secure the gifts we hope our family and friends will love enough to remember as part of their Christmas memories. Whether, or not you buy the gifts or spend your time creating gifts, the quest is the same. “Celebrate with me, recognize my regard /love for you. Remember me in your Christmas story.”

Often between the baking,decorating and the gift-giving we worry that the “true” meaning of Christmas is lost in the holiday shuffle. That it is too commercial,too stressful. Or that Christmas somehow is threatened by our increasingly smaller world. People who grew up not even knowing any non-Christians now sometimes feel like Christmas is diminished by having to share the calendar with other belief traditions and holidays.

And yet Christmas survives. It even thrives. People, like those singers in Philadelphia, do not “shop” the spirit. Nor do they bake it,decorate it or defend it. Those singers became Christmas.

Last night the women of my church gathered for our annual Women’s Advent service. It’s a quiet contemplative service. I try to go each year in order to force myself to slow down and feel the holiday. It’s easy to feel “to busy” to do this. And each year as we gather, the room full of women, all knowing that we are taking a break from the lists and the decorating and the baking to just, be. Be together. Be quiet. Be Christmas.

Some years Christmas is one long party of fun. But I have lived long enough to know that not every one’s Christmas will be joyous. Someones Mother is failing. Another mother’s child is diagnosed with a serious illness. My own heart has been broken at Christmas. Once when I lost my own mother, she a “Christmas baby” herself. And once when my own hopes for a “baby for Christmas” did not come true. But Christmas came anyway.

Two thousand years ago a young and probably frightened girl needed a place to stay while she had her baby. Today no decoration, no tree, no gift, can change how that changed the world. What we do with it is up to us. Every year Christmas has the power to change us. It makes us into bakers and gift-givers. Singers and light-hangers. What else will it make you become? Will you let it change you?

Somewhere a choir sings “Silent night”

somewhere a child laughs,

Somewhere a heart says, “Merry Christmas.”