Christmas is over. Bing’s gone back to a global-warming green Christmas after severe winter storms. Clarke Griswold has taken down the lights one strand at a time. Tiny Tim survived, thanks to Scrooge’s repentance and intervention.
Yet, this Christmas felt more like Carol of the Bells than Jingle Bells, didn’t it?
Just before Christmas, I found myself burned out, edgy, and tired. The sprayed on painted snowman and reindeer display in the window at Burger King didn’t help my lack of spirit nor did the smells of the Christmas tree lot kick start the eggnog in my veins when I walked by each night as I listened to podcasts and processed my day on my urban trek through the Christmastide.
Just after Christmas, I feel the same.
A few days before Christmas Day, I found myself in a locked area of a nursing home with seniors who no longer knew their names. I was visiting a woman from my parish who was in an activity room where they were about to play Christmas Carol Bingo. I sat at the table with all of them as the activity coordinator invited me to play. I disqualified myself, since I pretty much know most Christmas carols, and I wanted to just visit. The residents at the table wanted me to play, too. So, I did.
I stayed, I played, and I won. They were a tough group: even though they no longer remembered who they were, these carols were still in the mix and haze of dementia.
Then, before Christmas there was the funeral for a former narcotics officer with the RCMP, I was asked by his deeply-devout Roman Catholic wife not to mention God because he was an atheist. Besides, she believed enough for the both of them. Her husband had been diagnosed with cancer a few years before, and he referred to his treatments jokingly as “Club Chemo.” Most of the people attending his funeral were retired police officers. His sons weren’t too interested in religion, either. So, out of respect for them all, I didn’t mention God during his funeral; however, I did say at the beginning that asking a minister to not talk about God made me the last person he handcuffed.
Norm saw the world in sin and error. He saw the world pining for it. Long lay the world, indeed. And he worked hard, day by day, person by person, case by case, to change his city. He saw people at their worst and hoped for the best. There’s something holy in that. This year, I have done several funerals for those who have overdosed on fentanyl. One mother told me, of her adopted daughter addicted to the drug in Vancouver, “When the emergency room would call to say that my daughter had overdosed, I asked them to tell her when she woke up, “Your mother loves you.” She was a slave to that drug. Change shall he bring, for the slave is our sister. At her funeral her mother said, ‘That drug and her pimp no longer have her; we do.’
The year 2017 has laid waste to hope; launched a ballistic missile attack on facts; and it has given those of us in the helping professions ulcers trying to care for the least and the last. No wonder, for many of us, Christmas seemed a wee bit hollow, and an even more political story than it has for a good many years. In their book, “The First Christmas” Marcus Borg and John Dominic Crossan speak of the violent world into which Jesus was born.
Christmas Eve worship was political and spiritual. It’s a radical act to light a candle and to sing, “Sleep in heavenly peace” in a world with so much conflict.
One of my favourite stories about people treating each other well happened when I was in an elevator at the hospital during Christmas. I was standing there, wearing a clerical collar, with two doctors when a cleaning cart was pushed in and a janitor greeted them. They all knew each other. One doctor asked the janitor how he was, and he replied that he actually wasn’t feeling well at all. The doctor took his pulse and said, “You should go to emergency,” to which the janitor replied that he would, after work. The doctor said, “No, you’re going now and I’m taking you.” As we stood there the janitor said, “Well, what better place to take a heart attack than in an elevator in a hospital with two doctors and a priest?”
Somehow, there’s a thrill of hope to see people caring for each other.
And the weary world rejoices.
And the soul felt its worth.
In this season of Epiphany, as people have taken down their Christmas trees, and have turned off the Christmas lights on their homes and in their apartment windows, perhaps we need the light more than we realize.
There’s an old proverb by Samual Rayan that gives me a moment’s hope.
“A candle is a protest at midnight.
It is non-conformist.
It says to the darkness,
‘I beg to differ.’”