Christmas Eve

I pull aside the white linen drapes here by the side of the desk. Outside a few brown leaves scattered on crusty smooth snow. Trails of animal tracks I do not recognize. Golden oval leaves draping from a jagged dark limb. Brown leaves nestle at the base of a small fir.

On the desk here by the window a pile of scattered white lined paper. Lists of things I have done crossed out in dark lines amidst scribbles of book titles, calls to make, projects to complete.

A small black and white pocket notebook, my brown billfold, and a set of three keys for my locker room padlock, my bike lock and car placed inside my upside down Center for Wooden Boats green ball cap.

A paperback novel with a yellow and orange cover, an early Christmas gift from my niece.

The sun rises over the hill. Golden light streams through the gray trunks of trees.

It’s been 25 years since I haven’t been working tonight. 25 years since I wasn’t trying to stay awake in my office waiting for the 11pm service to start going over yet one more time the Christmas sermon or prayer. 25 years since I haven’t rehearsed with my colleagues how it was that we passed the light as the congregation began to sing Silent Night. Who is it that goes to the Advent wreath with their candle? Who do they pass the light to and where do we stand to light the candles for the choir as they process down from the chancel to surround the congregation with light? How is it that we cue them to begin to pass the light down the rows for pews packed for the late night service.

It’s been 25 years since I haven’t gotten home long after midnight this night. The exuberance of greeting children I have watched grow up into adults with children of their own.

25 years of holding space for so many others so that they could receive this gift of Christmas, and now, this year others who hold the space for me.

Twilight at the Church in the Woods in Canterbury, New Hampshire a dozen of us in a circle of plastic chairs in the small barn surrounded by candlelight, two dogs lounging by the wood stove. Later that night at my parent’s church in Sanbornton candles, red poinsettias and greens on the sills at the base of the dark stained glass windows. The white pews full of other visiting family and friends, several generations of the Mormon family from the farm down the hill joining the congregation in the white pews as they do each year. It’s the first time I’ve been here for Christmas Eve in decades.

I used to give everything for this night. The weeks and hours to craft the sermon. The planning and shaping of how the services would play together – the interplay of music and words, rehearsing the reading of the lessons with the liturgists, college students returned home for the holidays. Trying to remember the choreography for the passing of the candlelight at the close of the late night service, just before midnight. My parents welcoming at the door, passing out bulletins, coming forward side by side to pass the offering plates. Lingering to pick up bulletins left in the pews after the service.

Especially this year the promise of the coming light in the darkness means so much to me. I so wanted this year to draw to a close with some kind of completion, a meaning, a story and sense to make of it all. I wanted this year to end with an offering of myself, a giving myself again to a community, a project, a place – a pouring out of my imagination, a sharing of my gifts. And this year, instead of offering, I am here to learn again to receive.

I’m amazed how ignorant I am of this receiving. I wonder how I embody it, hold it. I sit back in my chair. Is this it? I open my palms. This? I am not as attentive to names. I drift off during the sermon.

The memory of this mornings image of the light on the desk recalls me to the way of receiving. Remember how I pulled aside the curtains, golden light and shadows over all this working and doing and proving and showing. All this that is still in process and incomplete. The to-do lists of things I wanted to do, the wallet with the money running out, the keys to my Honda Fit which has faithfully taken me these 18,000 miles over the past seven months, the shadows on my ball cap wondering still what clothes it is I will be wearing – how I will inhabit this new place and role and way in life. The longing for it to be meaningful, to make sense, to be a fitting next step along the way. And a reminder the steps along this way were born of invitations and from connections. A presence that I opened myself to receive.

The light comes in and for a moment, I stop and wonder – the play of dark and light, the grace of imagining that this soft light is a caress of care, of hope, of grace. Perhaps it is.

I want to believe the story. I want to know it is true. And yes, sometimes do. Know that whatever else is to come it is here and I need to be open to receiving it. This birthing of Christ, this God with us, here and now. I open wider the shades.

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