“I hate Christmas.” That’s what my dad said after I criticized the way he had arranged the little snow village on top of my grandparent’s baby grand piano to look like a cookie-cutter subdivision. “It looks way too suburban,” I teased him. The little tudor country houses were neatly spaced around cul-de-sacs. I could picture its nineteenth century residents driving home in their Camrys or Civics, or whatever they drove back then, rushing home after work to get dinner on the table before going back out to the mall to do some Christmas shopping. Some of them never spend Christmas at home; they’re going to be with his family this year over on the mantle and hers next year, which is usually on the bookshelf. Others don’t quite get the time off to celebrate because the hospital is understaffed or work is already piled up too high. One or two of them have lost a spouse this year and know that Christmas won’t be the same.
I imagine the little villagers pulling out their own even littler snow villages out of the attic and building their dream Christmas on the shelf: houses glow with the warm firelight and children run up the mileage on their sleds as time itself slows down and joy steeps in contented hearts.
They too look down at their model Christmas and wonder where they will find that kind of peace in the midst of so much hurry. That’s the tension my dad was feeling when he said he hated Christmas. Where are we to find peace amid so much hurry? What is it exactly that we are waiting for that seems to disappear as soon as it arrives?
Well, we’re waiting for a lot of things! We’re waiting for the family to all be together and for a break from school and work, for sure, but we’re waiting for bigger things as well. We’re waiting for peace and reconciliation and love and joy and hope to to enter into our lives and into our world. Christmas is the celebration of new things God is doing in our world. It’s the celebration of Emmanuel, God with us—God’s love made flesh in the person of Jesus—and God’s love made flesh in the way we love and serve one another.
On Christmas Eve, we’ve reached the pinnacle of anticipation; advent is pregnant with God’s love ready to be born into the world. Many of us will go to church on Christmas Eve to bear witness to the birth of the Christ child. We will usher God’s son with carols, candles, and cheer into a world full of hurry, darkness, and dreariness. During this worship, we get a glimpse of the incarnation as we retell and remember the story of Jesus’ birth.
So many of our church traditions, I think, have a bearing on the way we live our lives. It is when we can see God taking flesh in our liturgy and worship that we can begin see God taking shape in our lives and in the world. When we can make room in our busyness and hurry to celebrate the birth of the Christ child, we can begin to make room for God’s presence in our lives, and then in our world.
Most of our lives don’t remotely resemble the peaceful Christmas villages that spring up on furniture this time of year; but Jesus was not born into such a place. Jesus was born into a world of turmoil, despair, and ambiguity, not unlike ours. Let us pray for and bear witness to ways in which God is made flesh and present in our world today and rejoice!
Daniel Ervin is a final level M. Div. student at Union Presbyterian Seminary and one of our wonderful interns this year.