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Pastor’s Message – December 2018

~ Christmas Decorations ~

“Behold, a virgin shall be with child, and shall bring forth a son, and they shall call his name Emmanuel, which being interpreted is, God with us.”

~ Matthew 1:23

Dear Members and Friends,

Two summers ago, I had the strange task of finally clearing out my grandmother’s house in Clarion County. Grandma’s been dead for seventeen years, and the house unoccupied for eight. My parents had hoped to fix it up and move in, but that never happened. Someone finally made them an offer they couldn’t refuse, so we had to get things out. Up in the attic, I came across grandma’s Christmas ornaments, still lovingly packed in tissue paper: the old glass bulbs you used to get at the Five-and-Dime, delicate and ornate. I recognized them all from decades ago. It occurred to me a little sadly that those ornaments had been sitting there untouched since some forgotten January day, about thirty years ago, when grandma packed them away—not knowing that she would never unpack them again. (She stopped putting up the tree in 1988, when my grandfather died.) While digging around in that big box of holiday ornaments, I chanced upon the least timid mouse I’ve ever encountered. It didn’t run, but held its ground and stared at me defiantly, which gave me a fright. “A Christmas mouse,” I told myself, “unstirring, too, just like the mouse that wasn’t stirring in the old poem.” The familiar decorations had touched something deep in my soul. They drew back a curtain on childhood days, which I’d packed away in another kind of attic. But like those old glass ornaments, they were still there, waiting to be reclaimed. It was August, but I sat down on the attic floor and let the ghosts of Christmas past sing to me their universal song of longing.

How many things had changed since the last time those brilliant glass bulbs had caught the daylight? In my own life, there had been the Africa years, with all their glory and despair, then seminary and ordination, my marriage, the birth and the growing of my children, and our coming here to Bower Hill. In all these events, grandma’s Christmas ornaments were still in the attic, waiting. A few family members had died, but many more had been born. The bulbs’ attic sojourn had outlasted several marriages. There’d been divorces, illnesses, degrees earned, careers launched. The Internet had been invented since the last time those bulbs had dangled from a Christmas tree! And digital technology, and cell phones, and high speed streaming, and seedless grapes. Guardian mouse notwithstanding, I sorted through the box and collected my favorite Christmas ornaments. Now they spend a long yearly season in my own attic (less carefully packaged) and a short season dangling from our Christmas tree.

In an ever-changing world, Christmas is a constant, a taproot, a harbor. Its trappings and decorations are more than just fluff; they’re symbols of our dreams and hopes. We want to pull Christmas down from the attic each year to find it exactly as it was three decades ago. How many things have changed in your life since the last time we lit the Advent candles? How much has changed in our world since you last sang an angel’s song of joy to it? The revolving door of our life has seen old friends exiting and new ones entering. Since the last time we put up the tree, there’ve been things learned and forgotten, anxious conversations with the doctor, words and experiences we’ll not soon forget, midnight phone calls, shocking news, moments of peace, and instances of despair. We need the same old ornaments, and sounds, and smells of Christmas to anchor us, for we bring such altered selves to it each time around. Most of all, we need the old, old words to remain the same, becoming for us the living Word of truth, assuring us that despite the changes of a passing world, “God is with us.” May this season wrap you in a deathless, unchanging hope that God is with you, now and forever.

In Christ’s Peace, ~Brian

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