Monday, December 22, 2014

Reflections from Christmas 2014

Fifty three years of Christmases. I see twenty years ago, my mother-in-law holding new born Mary Ellen as I lead the Advent devotions with Katie. The baby's eyes shone as we lit the candle on the wreath we made. Another baby still in arms, Katie, six months old, rests in Dad's arm I wash dishes with my mother on Dad's last Christmas here on earth. In my mother's last years, brunch with David and the girls, then grabbing a free cappuccino at Sheetz on our way to Mercer to visit my mother at the nursing home.
This year, I have been surprised by tears of joy. The season changes by the years. I'm not the wide eyed child or the teen, loving all the family home sometime during the holiday after stressing at school. Or the adult coming home for Christmas, or staying in New Hampshire after an early visit to Pennsylvania the first week of December. I see the decorating I relished in my textile mill apartments in Norwich, Connecticut, holding my friend's little girl. I don't stress anymore at this time of year, I resigned to not getting it done years ago and truly am OK about that. I only have to shake off the tension as I talk to others who worry about all they have to do.
My house is not ready. My gifts aren't wrapped. I hardly do cards, but always have the intention this year will be different. Decorations declined to a minimum. On the outside, I don't look like I'm ready for Christmas and maybe for the earthly one, I'm not.
When people ask that frequent question, "Are you ready for Christmas?" I always reply, "In my heart I am." This year, my heart beats tender.
I love to see others decorations. I love the piped Christmas music overhead, especially Joy to the World, as I dance at my med cart at work. I haven't overdone the music of the season, and I welcome the songs flying into my head.
Last Saturday, David and I drove over to Mercer to see Dr. Kenneth Bailey's Christmas play, Open Hearts in Bethlehem. Trinity Presbyterian Church performed it. I knew the premise, he wrote it after years of living in the Middle East, using their culture as a basis for this blessed event of Jesus' birth. The Messiah's young family welcomed into a distant cousin's home with Mary having plenty support. We had to shake off the traditions we grew up with. The last lines in the play by Mary, after the shepherds run to the Baby, unexpectedly brought tears to my eyes as well as my husband's. He never carries a hanky, but that night he had some. I was overwhelmed by the simplicity of Jesus entrance into this world as a baby.
Tears came too, as on a rare Wednesday night, I made it to my church, we sang Away in the Manger with only guitar accompaniment, (yes, the way it was written.) The last stanza, with the plea for Jesus to fit us for Heaven, pulled those tears out of me. The children's carol, the cradle song, touched me in depth this year.
I read Renegade Amish by Donal B. Kraybill this month. The bishop of the Bergholz Barbers, Sam Mullet, is first cousins with a dear man I know. As I read, the faces of Bert and his family were always in my mind. I trembled as I realized how vulnerable they were to the attacks. Yet, they were spared. The forgiveness these dear people of Amish culture have embedded in their lives reached deep into my soul. These lines about the Nickel Mine shootings grabbed me:
The world learned in October 2006 that forgiveness is a highly lauded virtue in Amish culture when Charles Roberts IV, a non-Amish neighbor in Nickel Mines, Pennsylvania, took twenty-six children hostage in a one-room Amish school. A short while later he shot ten young girls, killing five of them, and then took his own life. Within hours, several Amish men spontaneously visited Roberts' widow and his parents and conveyed words of empathy, grace and forgiveness. This almost instant forgiveness startled people worldwide, who were accustomed to forgiveness coming slowly, if ever, from victims of violence.- footnote: this is from Kraybill, Nolt, and Weaver-Zercher, Amish Grace, 17-52.
Saturday, I finished Renegade Amish. The same day, I received a Christmas card from the family, a homemade card about dear friends near and far and the Savior's birth. The wife's old-fashioned handwriting reminds me of my grandmother's. She invites me to visit and I so want to return to that gentle landscape with their black buggies and flat farmland, subtle differences from the New Wilmington Amish hillsides. A hint in the written names that even though nothing has change, one daughter had to return home as unspeakable events happened in her life. Still, I know they live forgiveness. Tears swim in my eyes.
This year, the reality of Jesus being Man fills me with the surprise of tenderness and joy. I find tears swell in my eyes at unexpected moments. So I leave with one more quote:
"Christian faith is fact, but not bare fact; it is poetry, but not imagination. Like the arch which grows stronger precisely by dint of the weight you place upon it, so the story of the Gospels bears, with reassuring strength, the devotion of the centuries to Jesus as the Christ. What is music, asked Walt Whitman, but what awakens within you when you listen to the instrument? And Jesus is the music of the reality of God, and faith is what awakens when we hearken." Kenneth Cragg, "Who is Jesus Christ?" An unpublished sermon preached by Bishop Cragg at All Saints Episcopal Cathedral, Cairo, Egypt on Sunday, January 16, 1977. In the introduction of Dr. Kenneth Bailey's book David bought me at the play, signed by the author- Jesus Through Middle Eastern Eyes.
Listen for the music Jesus is. As Emmanuel, let His music touch your heart and awaken the wonder of Merry Christmas.

Post a Comment