Christmas Eve 2019: Merry Christmas

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Merry Christmas.

On one level
Christmas has been hidden
in the Miller house this year.

That is because we are moving
and we expected to be in our new home
before Christmas.
So we packed away all our emotion-laden Christmas stuff
with everything else that was taken into storage
where we cannot retrieve it
until it is all delivered
when we finally move in.
But that has all been delayed
and so our usual Christmas decorations are in hiding.
And by emotion-laden Christmas things,
I suspect you know what I mean:
The ornaments given to celebrate the birth
of each child.
The children’s books that we always read,
the fake and cracking red apples from my mom
that only I want to hang on the tree.

That kind of stuff.

They are the outer layer of Christmas –
the wrapping that is paper thin
but still holds so many memories
that it becomes the skin of Christmas.
When it is taken it away it can hurt.

But still, all that stuff is just an outer layer.

Somewhere in storage
there is a wooden babushka doll.
It is actually a babushka Santa
with one Santa inside another
and another inside that one,
and down to a little peanut of a Santa –
which, I think, is actually missing after all these years.
Babushka Santa
is a pretty good metaphor for Christmas.
First of all, there is Santa –
something in and of itself
that has absolutely nothing to do
with the nativity of Jesus.

As I wrote in the Finger Lakes Times last week,
according to Pew Research,
96% of Americans celebrate Christmas
whether or not they feel any affinity with the nativity.
32% of Jews decorate a Christmas tree.
More than three-quarters of American Buddhists and Hindus
celebrate Christmas.

Meanwhile, only 46% of those who observe Christmas
see it as primarily a religious event.
So Santa represents
that big babushka of a holiday
which anyone and everyone can celebrate…just cause.

By the way, if you are sitting there
predicting that I am going to get down to the baby Jesus
as the final, small babushka,
you will be disappointed.
So, don’t get too complacent
and think you know where this is headed.

The next babushka inside the big one,
the Santa one,
is family.

Family is the centrifugal force
holding everything in place
inside the Christmas whirlwind.
It is also
one of the things that can make Christmas
a dark time for some folks.

It may be because we are not with our family for Christmas;
or we do not have strong family ties to begin with;
or maybe we just don’t have much family;
or maybe the family we do have is toxic.
A big, national party
that everyone everywhere seems to be celebrating
can burn
when the element of family is missing or painful.

But that said, for many of us, getting family together
may be the very best part of Christmas.
Jesus is okay, by if you want to know who I love most,

it is my family: our children, and their partners,
and that rascally little grandson in the back rows.
For me, as for some of you too,
Christmas would be just fine
if all it ever was,
was sitting around with family eating tacos.

Even so, there is another little babushka
inside the family one.
The smaller Christmas babushka inside family
is harder to recognize on its own or to isolate
independent of everything else.
It has something to do with a yearning.
For many of us, it is a yearning
we have learned to detach from or to numb.

I want to call it a…yearning for peace
but that sounds too abstract or corny.
Yet it is something like that –
a desire to feel harmony
and that things that were out of order
are somehow coming into sync.
It is a desire to know “the kids will be alright;”
to know the relationship between
those of us who have and those who have not
is coming into some kind of better balance.

It is a peace
we have never actually known before
and that we understand
has never actually been before
in our tortured and bloody human history.
And yet, somehow,
from somewhere or someone
an ember still glows
quietly within us
that keeps a small desire for it alive.
So I will call it a
little peace-babushka
that gets a small breath blown on it
for some of us
by the Christmas season.

Then there is another one
inside the that one.

Like the peace-babushka,
this still smaller Christmas one
lives inside us too –
and it has little to do
with the big national holiday.
It may have some tangential connection to family
but it also is a seed inside all of that bigger,
more obvious stuff.

I dare say it is a dream.

Coming from where I am coming from,
I want to call it God’s best dream for us –
God’s best dream for you, and for me.
But that may be going too far
for some folks.

So, I will just name it “dream” –
whosever dream it is
it somehow got deposited in us.

By dream,
I do not mean fantasy
or make believe
or pretend.
I mean a real part of who we are
that has been
and is
trying to bloom.

I can tell you for a fact,
that it has nothing to do with age
because mine still keeps taking me places
I had no idea or intention of going.
Yours too, however old you are,
can and is, still blooming.
You know, and I do too,
that we are either blooming or we are dying
and there is no reason to die
before we actually die.

This dream,
the one inside you and me
that blooms slowly
and sometimes suddenly,
can get nurtured at Christmas
without us even noticing.

In my experience,
there is often a quiet moment
inside the big Christmas who-ha
that can give us an inkling of its presence
and our relationship to it.
It is usually a moment
that comes without notice,
all of a sudden,
when things get quiet inside us
even if we are surrounded by others.

The dream, remember,
is not necessarily about our identity –
or how others perceive us
or what we are known for.
The dream is something about
understanding our relationship with the world
and how we are connected to the greater web of life
and seeing our small part in it;
and it’s about understanding how
what we do
ripples the web
and strengthens it,
or makes it more vulnerable.

When we get a little vision of that,
even the smallest of inklings,
it usually points us in a direction.
The dream is that kind of feeling or vision or inkling.

When we find ourselves in the presence of ‘the dream,’
we understand we are not alone,
and we understand that we are not truly an individual,
and that what we do
really and truly matters,
even in a small but outsized way.
‘The dream’ has all that connected to it.
In my experience,
brushing into the dream
is also an experience of hope,
and THAT is the smallest little babushka of Christmas.

Hope is the hunger that nourishes us.

Hope is the one thing
a human being
cannot live without.

When we travel to our core,
or fall into it as the case may be,
hope is the thing
that leads us back out.

If we cannot fathom hope
inside where we live
then that basic, essential hunger
that pools at the center of our being
will take us places
where human beings cannot dwell
in safety or wellness.

Hope is a flame
gently, quietly flickering
in the darkness.
It need not be very big at all
because, as we know,
even the smallest flame
enlightens even the deepest darkness.
That tiniest babushka of Christmas
hidden within all the surrounding ones,
is hope.

What I have just described
can also be applied to the story in Luke
with its outer events winnowing down
to its essential ah-ha!
But that babushka pattern
can be applied to you and me too,
with each element of Luke’s story
reflected in our lives.

I won’t annotate the Gospel story for you,
that is your work; and,
I cannot annotate your story,
the one that takes you down
to that dream…
with its hope.
That is your work too.

All I can do
is tell you that I know it is there –
that everything in my own experience
and the privilege I have had
to accompany others along their experiences,
affirms over and over and over again,
the presence of the dream
and a hope
at the center of Christmas…
at the center of life – yours and mine.

So my hope for you,
is that you bump into peace
and brush up against that dream
with its nascent hope,
and that both things happen for you

Merry Christmas.