Rector's Blog: Wait and Wonder
This blog is also available as a podcast.
Every year is the same. Every Christmas, as the day approaches, we stress about the same things: About our expectations for the day, for the season, about if we will give and get the right things for and from people, about the decorations and the food, even about having the appropriate amount of “Christmas spirit”. It blows my mind how ready we are to feel guilty about not getting it all just right, how we will agonize over getting the day or the season right.
And, of course, every year is different. The worry and fret may be constants, but the things over which we worry and fret are unique each year: specific relationships that need more attention, specific gifts that are unfindable. The things we want to get right are certainly different this year: What time should we Zoom with our extended family, and how much food will we prepare for just ourselves or just two or three of us instead of a whole crew of people? How will we make sure it feels like Christmas even when everything is different? This has been the subject of a lot of handwringing and tear-shedding in the DeVaul house. We want to get it right. We say we want to get it right “for the kids”, and sure that’s partially true, but let’s be honest: We’re as heartbroken as they are that we won’t be hugging grandparents or caroling or going to the movies (yes, that’s one of our family Christmas traditions) this year.
So, it’s the same and it’s different. We know what to expect and also, we have no idea.
I’m not going to tell you not to worry or fret this Christmas. That would be futile and unhelpful advice, like telling a runner not to get tired during a marathon. I say worry and fret if you have to. Don’t listen to people who shame you for not feeling perfect. Don’t listen to Christians who tell you worry and fret are unchristian. Goodness gracious. Feel whatever you have to feel this Christmas.
I remember waiting for the birth of our first child. She was due right around Christmas, so I always associate the comingling of worry and excitement, anticipation, fear, and wonder with both preparing for Christmas and preparing for childbirth. Like, the celebration of Christmas, we bring a lot of baggage to the birth of a new life. People’s circumstances are so different from person to person, from family to family, but every birth is the same in that we know what to expect and also, we have no idea. After billions of people being born, we have a basic sense of how a birth will go, but we don’t know how this one will go. What with billions of people walking the earth, we have a general idea of how wonderful and terrible people can be, but we have no idea how this new human will be wonderful and terrible. There is so much mystery and so much certainty side by side.
We can plan and prepare, and still a good portion of our work leading up to Christmas, leading up to a birth, is just to wait and wonder. And where there’s waiting and wondering, there is almost always a little of worry and fret. It’s part of the deal.
I refuse to believe Mary and Joseph glided through the first Christmas free of all these feelings – free of excitement and fear, free of hope and worry. A young couple in the late term of a pregnancy on a road trip from Nazareth to Bethlehem, forgetting to get a reservation, everything’s booked and her water breaks. The baby is coming. Right now. The certainty and the mystery are magnificently, terrifyingly present.
And so, it is with so much of our lives right now. The vaccines are coming out. We can see a way through this pandemic – there is almost an inevitability it, but there is still so much unknown. Both are true. The election is over. The transition from one president to the next has begun. We’ve done it many times before and we get the basic idea, but this one feels different, doesn’t it? And we wonder how it will all go. Certainty and mystery. Anticipation and fear.
What if we didn’t try to talk ourselves out of feeling all these things at once this year? What if we let our complicated feelings just be what they are right now?
The power of the first Christmas is as always that Jesus shows up. God does not require us to feel the right way about it. Jesus does not show up only when we’re all perfectly prepared or understanding, and the reality of Jesus’ presence is not conditional upon our getting it or feeling any particular way about it. Jesus is perfectly at home in the mystery and certainty of your life, in the things that never change, and the things that are never the same. This year is nothing like any other year. And yet, like every other year we’ve ever known, God shows up. Grace abounds. Real Love is yours, right now, as you are.
From my worried, excited, fretting, joyous house to yours: Merry Christmas!
Tags: Rector's Blog