I’m sitting in my office in the basement of the church building. So far as I know, I’m the only person here.
The food pantry volunteers have cleaned up and put away the tables, boxes, and other accoutrements of their ministry. The hundred or so client families have been sent away with bags of groceries, frozen chickens, stuffing, sweet potatoes, and all the rest of what they need not only for a Christmas dinner but for a week or two of everyday meals.
The ladies and gentlemen of the altar guild have done their duties. The altar is set with its veiled chalice; the credence table is laden with extra communion vessels, cruets of water and wine, the wooden and silver basins to receive the alms of worshipers.
The sexton has come and gone. The rack of parishioner name tags has been rolled into place in the entryway. The parish hall is set for coffee hour.
All is ready for the last Sunday before Christmas. All, that is,
except the sermon.
I’m sitting in my office in the basement of the church building trying to make sense of notes I’ve written myself over the course of the past two weeks, notes about Mary, notes about pregnancy, notes about the unexpected and the impossible, all of which I thought would somehow work themselves into a great sermon. And hopefully later today they will.
But right now, sitting here in my office in the basement of the church building, that isn’t happening.
What’s happening is that I’m dealing with my annual attack of Christmas blues. What’s happening is that I’m weeping like a baby remembering all the people who aren’t here, all the people (dead and living) who won’t be gathering for a Funston family Christmas.
What’s happening is that I am once again facing the reality of being a clergyman at Christmas, an aging, nearing-retirement clergyman with lots of memories of Christmases on which there was no gathering of the family.
Clergy (this should be no surprise to anyone, but I think it is to many) work at Christmas time. There’s no taking off a few days to visit parents and grandparents. There’s no traveling to some special family place.
So my children have very few memories of Christmas with grandparents, and none of Christmases at their grandparents’ homes; there are no stories to tell of sledding with Grampa or working in the kitchen with Gramma, no recollections of opening presents around a grandparental Christmas tree, of feasts at a grandparental dining table.
Most of my ordained life I’ve spent as the only ordained person in my congregation, which means that whatever Christmas services are offered, I’ve been the officiant or presider. So if there is to be a late afternoon service for tots and toddlers, an early evening service for families, and a “midnight mass” for the traditionalists, I’m the one who does them, energetically as if each were the only service of the holiday.
That means Christmas morning finds me wiped out, sleeping in, in no mood for fun-and-game, and with no interest in any sort of meal that takes any effort to prepare. I suspect that my children’s memories of Christmas morning are probably not happy ones.
I’m sorry, kids. I wish I’d done better by you. I wish I’d figured out how to get those plum corporate parish jobs with lots of clergy on staff so that we could have taken, occasionally, a Christmas away. I wish I’d figure out how to not spend my resources on my job and to have more energy for you. There are many times I’ve wished I could have ignored God’s nagging and said “No!” to God’s call to this ordained life. But that wasn’t possible.
So I am sitting here in my office in the basement of the church building. I have to make sense of these notes about Mary and pregnancy and the unexpected . . . and then I have to make sense of this other pile of notes about Jesus and birth and celebration.
Come, Holy Spirit, come!
And from your celestial home
Shed a ray of light divine!
. . . especially in this office in the basement of the church building.