A Soft Dissent

For the past couple years I have participated in the observation of the traditional “Twelve Days of Christmas.”

It is impossible to ignore the blare of the commercial Christmas (that has become the “new tradition” over the span of my life) that begins with some radio station playing 24 hour Christmas music on Black Friday (the day after Thanksgiving) and that ends abruptly on Christmas night at midnight – and so I don’t.  I don’t attempt to block out all that is going on around me, or try to rain on anyone’s parade who likes to start celebrating Christmas when the leaves are just turning to autumn colors.

Last year I found myself scurrying around in the few days that led up to Christmas Eve, wondering how I would get everything done by the “deadlines” that had been set to the tune of marketing campaigns that were designed to squeeze every ounce of consumerism out of every living human within ear-shot or eye-shot of their promotion and advertising efforts. It seemed highly unfair that the days between Christmas and New Years were some of the most easy-going days of my year, and if I could just shift some of that busyness into that time slot my life would be so much better.

It dawned on me that if I simply observed, more whole-heartedly, the tradition of Christmas (as it was practiced before spending lots of money and outdoing everyone else who might have better decorations and Christmas parties became the norm), I might actually be able to shift some of my Christmas observance and celebration to that time period formerly known as “The Twelve Days of Christmas” and actually enjoy the experience and season of Christmas. And so I did.

Admittedly, one has to work at continuing in the Christmas spirit from December 26 through January 5, because all the rest of the world has moved on to thinking about summer wear (with slight speed bumps at Super Bowl Sunday and Valentines Day). From December 26 through January 5, I play my “Christmas mix” on my iPhone through my ear-buds, I address my Christmas cards and drop them in the mail during the days between Christmas and New Years so the recipients will hopefully receive them before the “Twelfth Night.”

I don’t reckon most people even know I am protesting. It is not like I am waving signs or singing protest songs. It is a soft dissent. Soft and quiet and gentle.

One of the new joys for me is some of the reflection I get to do by remembering Christmas on all these extra days.

Today I was thinking that “this is the 7th Day of Christmas.” It is also December 31, 2014, the very last day of the year. One of the worship planning and preaching resources I frequent, Sundays and Seasons (Published by Augsburg Fortress) suggested that it was a particularly interesting convergence of biblical symbolism of the number “7” and this important calendar observance of New Year’s Eve. In the Bible, the number “7” is the number of completion and wholeness. Creation was finished on the seventh day (there are many other important 7’s in the Bible – you can Google them yourself!).  Here on the very last day of the year – the day the year itself is “completed” – we are celebrating “The Seventh Day of Christmas!”

As I was writing in my journal early this morning, reflecting on 2014, I got to thinking it was about as complete a year as a man could want. My wife and I celebrated our 30th wedding anniversary. My sweet son, Matt, graduated from High School. My daughter, Lindsay, got married. My daughter, Kerra, gave birth to our first grandchild. I could add a whole other listing of celebrations and high points of my year.

There are some years that I have stopped and thought about my year and wondered how I made it through the difficult circumstances I had faced during the year. I won’t name those here, but you know what I am talking about – because I believe if any of us live long enough we will face challenges and hardship and sorrow and pain that we wonder how we ever made it through.

The wonderful Christmas carol, “Good Christian Friends, Rejoice” suggests:

“…now ye hear of endless bliss,

Jesus Christ was born for this,

He has opened heaven’s door,

and we are blest for evermore,

Christ was born for this,

Christ was born for this,”

 The amazing thing is that even in those years – the years I would just as soon bury the memories as wave a banner of celebration – I have felt “complete” and “whole” when I looked back on those times. What I have come to believe is that just as “Christ was born” for our blessing and bliss, Christ was born for our sorrow and sadness, and is as present, if not more so, in those times.

It’s as if God’s own “soft dissent” is offered to us in our challenges and struggles. “Watch this!” I can almost hear God say. “I will be there with you – to march with you, to stand by your side, to “have your back,” when you are going through all things – the good and the bad.  Try to remember that when the way seems dark and lonely!”

A Prayer for the New Year

O God of gentle presence, who has walked every step with me I have ever taken, help me to be still, and quiet, and open eyed enough to recognize that you are always there. Thank you for being present in the celebrations of this year past, and thank you for being present in whatever a new year will bring. Amen

A Little Light for The Darkest Day of the Year

“I believe that men are generally still a little afraid of the dark, though the witches are all hung, and Christianity and candles have been introduced.” Henry David Thoreau, Walden

If Henry were still alive, I would tell him that I couldn’t agree more. Wouldn’t he be amazed to see, in fact, just how “not dark” our world is with the advent of electricity? But still, men (and even some women that I know) are “still a little afraid of the dark.”

The longer I live the better I understand that what many of us fear is not the literal darkness of the absence of a light to light our way. If Thoreau were pointing at “superstition” when he brought up the “witches,” I sometimes wish that I could fear the darkness of things that might not actually exist – things about which many folk are “superstitious,” (like I did when I was a little boy going out to get the mail in the mailbox that was only about 100 feet from the front door, but when I turned my back to whatever was out there in the dark behind me it seemed like a quarter mile that I had to scamper to get in the safe of the light of my home), instead of being afraid of the dark – the real dark – that seems to be inhering my world right now.

I was going to preach about “light” and “dark” today, on this Winter Solstice, the shortest daylight day of the year. I was already surprised at how much national and global “darkness” I could remind us had occurred in the past four weeks of Advent: two grand jury decisions (and all that transpired because of that), the fears of retaliation by terrorist organizations for the revelation of interrogation practices in the post 9/11 climate in which we live, the threat by North Korea to bomb movie theaters (on Christmas day no less), and 141 children in Pakistan being killed. It just seemed to be “enough” darkness. And then I awoke and read the news that yesterday afternoon two New York City police officers were murdered in their patrol car – most likely as vengeance for the non-indictment of the aforementioned grand jury decisions. Will we ever end the violence and retribution and retaliation?

When I got to my church early this morning, I walked into the sanctuary to be sure everything was in place for worship. There was a small shaft of sunlight coming through an eastern window and striking a small evergreen tree placed behind our altar as a decoration. It was decorated with blue and silver ribbons and glass balls (in keeping with the liturgical color of “blue” for the season of Advent). I did a double take when I saw little points of light on the wall behind our altar. At first I thought I was seeing stars that someone might have painted on the wall, but then realized it was light reflected off the small mirror ball glass decorations on the tree.

Advent LightAs I pondered the darkness of the news and the world that I am living in, it was as if God said: “Pastor….be alert! Keep awake! Look for the light,” and I couldn’t help but think of the words from the Gospel of John that I will say in the darkness of the Christmas Eve candlelight service, three days from now, to people who have gathered for worship and to celebrate the coming of the Christ as a newborn baby into the darkness of our world. I will only see in their faces what the glow of the candle they are holding in front of them reveals as I read:

In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was in the beginning with God. All things came into being through him, and without him not one thing came into being. What has come into being in him was life, and the life was the light of all people. The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness did not overcome it. And the Word became flesh and lived among us, and we have seen his glory, the glory as of a father’s only son, full of grace and truth. (John 1:1-5, 14 NRSV)

On this darkest day of the year, and six months from now – on the brightest day of the year – we can always know that the Light has come. Not just to the good people, or the people who deserve it, or the people who come to church on other days besides Christmas and Easter. It is the light of all people.

The light is for you and me and even the people who cause the darkness that we live in.

That’s what makes it “grace.”