Saturday, December 13, 2008

Advent - Christmas Trees or Christmasfreeze?

This week I learned a new word: Christmasfreeze - like ice cream freeze, that brain numbing shot of lighting that happens when your mouthful of ice cream hits a certain spot on the roof of your mouth and ZING - ice cream freeze. The only way out of it is to warm the roof of your mouth slowly with your tongue, which you hope isn't as cold as the ice cream.

Christmasfreeze is the brain numbing shot of lightning that happens when the expectations of this season of December, known to some in the Christian world as Advent - "something is coming" - pile up and come crashing down all at one time and there is no defense against it.

I had Christmasfreeze once. I was serving a church in Boothwyn, Pennsylvania. Two days before Christmas Day, on December 23, the bishop phoned and said, "St. Martin's will have to be closed. We'll try to re-deploy you." (Whatever re-deploy means, it always makes me feel like a stealth missile aimed at some unsuspecting congregation, the purpose of which is to demolish the old and start everything over again.)

Well, to say the least, that phone call took all the Christmas out of me. I wanted none of it. The call was tantamount to being fired, and since I was a Priest-in-Charge, an appointment by the bishop rather than a choice of the congregation that was on the verge of closing when I was appointed anyway, it was indeed a firing. I've not been fired since I had my first job at the soda fountain in still-segregated Lewes, Delaware in the 60's. I was an outsider and they kept me only a week. I said or did something that was outside the culture and I was fired.

The Christmasfreeze was severe. I told my husband I didn't want to deal with any of the stuff we usually did. Forget the annual trip to a tree farm on Christmas Eve to buy a tree, put it up, decorate it...I convinced him to get a small artificial tree. That was my concession to the season. I let him put lights on it. I ignored all my boxes of decorations.

The antidote to Christmasfreeze could not come from me. I didn't want an antidote. So two angels came to visit on Christmas Eve, a few hours before the late night service. They had been turned out of their church for being a gay couple who wanted to be acknowledged as a couple. Could they come in to the church just for a few minutes and pray together?

I wasn't there. My spouse was practicing the music for the service. He let them in and stayed out of their way while they went to the steps of the altar and knelt together and prayer. Then they left.

My spouse came straight down the lawn to the rectory to tell me that two angels had visited. He told me the story, and my christmasfrozen brain and heart returned to what for me passes as normal. After Christmas I went and bought four ornaments for the small artificial tree.

Christmasfreeze is nothing to laugh about. It is real. It is serious. Those of us who do not suffer it don't have any idea how we contribute to it. Our "Ho-ho-ho-ing" and our shopping and singing and cheer send a message to others that this is expected of them, whether they feel that way or not. Imagine what it's like, then, to be a priest, to whom people look to, in a sense, make Christmas happen for them? Those two days between the bishop's announcement to me and the arrival of the angels was just plain hell. How was I going to get through that Christmas service, with all its expectations.

In the end, I did get through it, and enjoyed Christmas Day. We didn't do the family thing. We just had a quiet few days together. It was six more months before St. Martin's did indeed close. I was not "re-deployed" in that diocese. Instead, I was called (a far cry from "deployed"!) to Norwalk, Connecticut.

This is our third Christmas here. For those first two Christmases, I was still haunted by the Christmasfreeze of that one awful December. Last weekend, my spouse and I were returning from going out to lunch, and there was the gardening center, on a corner in our neighborhood. And I asked, "Can we stop here and get a Christmas tree?" And we did. Not on Christmas Eve. That day. And we put it up and put lights on it. Spouse brought up one of the big boxes of ornaments, but I haven't put any on. I'm just enjoying having a real live Christmas tree again.

And I took out my favorite, ancient Christmas jigsaw puzzle and spent most of the week putting it together and warming my heart with Christmas.

The difference is I'm not responding to any cultural or religious or community expectations. I'm doing what delights me. That includes what I do for and with the congregation I serve. In the end you can't meet people's expectations, nor the culture's or religion's, because you can't please everyone. Trying to do so just makes me a miserable person to be with and to work with. If I do what delights me, then occasionally doing some of the things that don't give me life or that drag me down can't keep me down for long. For, lo, there's one of the things that gives me delight, outside of the realm of expectations, and it's there before me.

I guess that's all I have to say this eve of Advent Three. This Sunday used to be called Gaudete Sunday: Joyful Sunday. A break in the Lent-like expectations of Advent. Happy Gaudete Sunday.


Barbara said...

In order for me to not succumb to the cultural and religious expectations that abound, I have to drop my own expectations that are feeding into the cycle. I guess I am the only one that can thaw my own Christmasfreeze. In other words: "Lighten up, Barbara."

Anonymous said...

Oh Barbara, you make me chuckle. How many times have I been there, and how many more times will I be there again!