Friday, December 24, 2010

Traditions, Loss, and Light

Each of us have our holiday traditions.  In my household, one of the primary Christmas celebrations comes with the Assembling of the Tree.  The Tree, in this instance, is carted down from the attic in my parents house, where it has dwelled in all it's marginally realistic plastic glory since 1978.   This year, the task fell almost completely to my boys, for whom the Assembling of the Tree is a touchstone of the season.   Then we have a carol sing, which culminates in a completely chaotic rendition of the 12 Days of Christmas, replete with dance moves appropriate to each of the days.   The celebration has evolved over the years.  We no longer read The Night Before Christmas, for example.  But as one tradition goes, another comes, and the event remains a blissful Yuletide hootenanny.

Those patterns of life, those affirmations of our identity, well, they're important.

As I put the finishing touches on the second of the two sermons for the week, and reflect back on the Christmas Eve service that just passed, I can't help but feel a teensy bit o' wistfulness about this season.  Back on Christmas Eve of 2003, I was part of my first Christmas service here at Trinity.  It was big, exuberant, and completely chaotic.  The week before was a whirl of planning and calling and patching things together.  It shimmered with tension and anticipation.  The night itself was joyous release, chock full of hope and music and lights and holy messiness. 

And tonight was good too.  But it is, without question, the last year I'll celebrate Christmas here.  Next year, I'll be somewhere different.  I don't have a clue where, but I know that most of the faces and the sacred spaces that have defined much of the last decade of my Christmases will not be the same.  As necessary as that change is, it remains nonetheless somewhat difficult to process.

And that awareness reminds me that for many, this season and its traditions can be intensely painful.  The rituals and patterns that can for most us evoke warm fuzzies around Christmas have a very different feeling for others.  For those who've lost jobs and struggled to find their footing, the consumptiveness of the season can leave them feeling stressed and helpless.  For those who've lost loved ones, this time of togetherness can be a powerful reminder of absence, as that expected presence...well...just isn't there.   For those who've had relationships collapse, this can be a reminder of times of intense pain.  For those who are just plain old alone, or struggling with depression, it can be a brutal time, when feelings of isolation are heightened.

Remembering those souls and their struggles is an important part of this season.  Not the buying.  Not the stress.  Not even the reconnecting with friends and family.  It's those souls toward whom the heart of this season is directed.  It's to those who are living in darkness that the light most intensely shines.