Sunday, December 25, 2011
So I'm not serving Blackberry, Cranberry Compote This Year
This is what I hate about the Christmas season. Every year I try. Really. REALLY try to simplify. To plan well. To do in advance. To remember it isn't about presents but about presence--that of our family and that of JESUS. Try to keep Christ central. But then comes the crescendo of last minute items unchecked from the lists of labors loudly lamenting my inefficiency. That crescendo that crowds out the spirit singing Silent Night, Holy Night. That crescendo that blows to smitherines all my careful, meticulous planning.
And tension mounts.
Grows like snow falling in Ontario winters.
Soft and slow at first, a blanket that wraps me, but it becomes heavier, weightier. And it isn't long before I am suffocating, snowed in by it all, my shovel is still in Ontario, and I'm in Georgia and I can't get out.
Blinded by the blizzard.
Blinded to the light.
That's where I was when Jeff was playing airsoft, and I was transferring my blackberry, cranberry compote from stove to fridge. Blinded and singing myself a pity song. That's where I was when the Pyrex pranced out of my hands and like Santa and his reindeer, pirouetted across the kitchen plopping herself onto planked-floor slinging her fruity purple slop on every surface within a twelve mile radius. And I saw stars. (Not the one on my tree or the one from Bethlehem.) A bull chasing red, air coursed my from nostrils, and I'm sure my ears were chimneys and smoke billowed from them.
Thirty minutes I spent cleaning that mess. Wiping doors, table legs-chair legs-stool legs, pantry cupboards, under the refrigerator. How is it possible for compote to centripetally sail in every direction when I had only been traveling in one? I know it multiplied as it flew. Thirty minutes I didn't have. Not in my schedule.
Third batch of short breads waiting to be whipped, and two chickens chanting to be roasted. Counters littered with baking debris and my heart hurting.
"Lord, I know this is a season of joy, but I hate this. I can't see you in this. And how ridiculous is it that I, one so blessed, am seething when I should be singing?"
"In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was fully God. The Word was with God in the beginning. All things were created by him, and apart from him not one thing was created that has been created. In Him was life, and the life was the light of mankind. And the light shines in the darkness, but the darkness has not mastered it." (John :1-5)
The darkness has not mastered it.
The darkness of life--of the moments when gooey, glorified fruit relish slink down our walls--can overwhelm. Can blind. Can snow a soul in.
And I am ashamed when that is my darkness. Want to deny it. Pretend it isn't dark. Pretend the picket fence isn't stained, and the world is perfect because how dare I consider my world dark when there is a deeper shade of black than I have ever known? Children hunger. Children thirst, cry for a mother who is gone, a father who never cared in the first place. Men and women in parks huddle hoping to stay warm on their bench-beds. How can I, fortunate daughter of North America, claim darkness?
Darkness dawns many shades and she is all humanity's beast of the soul.
Christian. Not Christian. Child. Adult. Homebound or homeless. Prince or Pauper. We all know her shadow. She has dressed as serpent tricking Eve to taste, she has heaved her heavy blanket on hunched shoulders and stayed until the doctors give pills, she has clinched fists and coerced them into slinging, she has blinded the rich man to the homeless man, and she has tempted the weary mother to wallow in the mire of miscellaneous mountains that demand her attention. I know because I am that mother, and I have seen darkness dance. I've taken her dangling arm and waltzed a round or two.
But the darkness has not mastered the light.
That word mastered means to overcome it, to overtake it. The darkness has never overtaken the light. Never. No matter the shade, she cannot conquer The Light of the World. I recall the words of Peter, the young boy in Elizabeth Yates' classic, Once in the Year when he asks Benj to further explain what happened when the angels appeared to the shepherds, "What had happened, Benj? What made the night turn to light?"
What indeed makes the night turn to light?
I sat on the floor, eyes giving way to waterfalls of emotion--a mother tired of mothering, and I whispered, "Immanuel--LIGHT with me."
"The virgin will be with child and will give birth to a son, and they will call him Immanuel"--which means, "God with us." (Matthew 1:23)
These dark moments. They're why He came. To redeem them. To cast light when we can't see beyond ourselves.
These moments when celebrating Christmas is a serrated knife to our gut because we're saying goodbye to the family member we loved, when children still thirst in countries an airplane ride away, when teenage children are parents too early, and even the moments when we can't find a justifiable reason. These are the moments Immanuel--God with us--came for. They are the moments that make us eligble for His grace.
The moments when we say,
"Surely the darkness will hide me
and the light become night around me..."
But the darkness will not master light.
"...even the darkness will not be dark to you;
the night will shine like the day,
for darkness is as light to you."
And that night was a mess, but it was indeed a holy night in my kitchen.
Oh, holy night, the stars were brightly shining. It is the night of our dear Savior's birth.
It was holy not because I felt like the serene images of Mary--hair long, clothed in pallid blue, halo over head--but because Immanuel is brighter than the darkness that overwhelms.
And the wise men followed a star that moved as they moved, guiding them to Ultimate Light.
And I too can follow The Light of Men, follow Him from darkness into light.
I cleaned in silence, wiping away the mess of my own making--my haste, my rushing. It isn't the repercussions, the ramifications, the ripple effects that are altered by the light. It is in the heart that walks through the ramifications--the valleys of the shadows of death, the cleaning of compote, the closing of caskets, the calling out to God for wayward children--that Light makes a difference. Immanuel, God with us, God in us who follow Him, is the meaning of hope, the meaning of Joy To The World.
There is not just light at the end of the tunnel, there is light through the tunnel, within us as we pass her cavernous way.
And Christmas is about that light.
It is the slowing time.
The time when we light up a thousand trees and top them with glowing stars. Just the other day I laughed in wonder at God's own light display dripping in my front yard. Not long after dawn He had ladled the dew so heavy on lanky limbs of maple trees that tiny one centimeter balls of liquid luminated the morning while blue birds made their nests nearby. God's own Christmas tree.
And those bulbs would reflect the sun.
Too, I am a reflection of His Light. The reflection of Son light in my home, my neighborhood, my little world. Sometimes a poor one, it is true.
When the floors and walls were cleaned, I stood, still steaming slightly. Emotions don't always dissolve, but they are like the shadow of a monstrous cat that nested in the folds of insulation between the ceiling joists of my unfinished childhood ceiling, that dawn slowly erased.
And when, moments later, mom came I took shelter in the human arms that God sent, the mother's arms who never stops mothering. Because we are human, after all. We need the touching, the telling that all is well.
But my spirit already knew. Immanuel was there.
And this is the hope of Christmas, that darkness will never master light.
There will be no cranberry, blackberry froo froo on my Christmas table this year, but lighted candles there will be.
To remind me.
He is here.
Through it all.
Pray with me:
Immanuel, God come down into my messy kitchen, stepping with me across sticky floors. Immanuel. Teach me to see the holiness in every moment. Teach me to see the burning of your Light when darkness shrouds my soul. Let me be a display of Your Light to those with greater darkness than my own. Help me to fix my gaze on You that my eyes will be good and my soul will be so full that a shivering world is wormed by your reflection in me. Amen