Christmas as a pastor is not really like Christmas for most people. Just ask any preacher’s kid. While their peers are taking long road trips, fun vacations, or at least doing fun activities like making gingerbread houses, going to the movies, or baking cookies, the fun in a pastor’s home does not really begin in earnest until all the church services are done – and after a requisite nap for said pastor.
But that is just surface stuff. The harder part for clergy is holding in tension the reality of Christmas. The secular world would have you believe Christmas means perfectly decorated trees stuffed with tons of perfect presents, hearths dressed in elaborate greenery, family traditions that always bring joy, and gatherings around meals with people who are happy to be together.
But clergy are the ones who hear throughout Advent about those dealing with health crises, those struggling with the pending death of a loved one, those whose marriages are crumbling, those struggling to make ends meet, and those who are in the fog of depression and anxiety. Clergy are also the ones who celebrate weddings, the births of babies, the good grade on an exam, the new relationships or reconciled family member, and the unbounded joy of a child waiting to open gifts. The juxtaposition of the messy, horribleness of life and the joyful, abundance of life is never sharper than at Christmas – where societal and personal expectations are high, and where reality never reaches perfection.
The irony, though, is that the actual Christmas story is just about that – a juxtaposition of messy horribleness and joyful abundance: where governments are oppressing the poor financially, where pregnancies are scandalous, where birthing rooms are inadequate; all while the poor receive good news, where the lowly birth the mighty, and where community and goodness is shared among strangers. This year, still slogging through a long season of pandemic and political strife, I pray that you might see the Christmas story clear-eyed – taking off the rose-colored glasses, and seeing with fresh eyes the messy, ugly, beautiful story of Christmas. Christmas blessings my friends! I see you, I love you, and more importantly, so does Jesus.