Monday, December 19, 2011

A Fiery Christmas

Forty years later and I still remember smoke pouring into the room. It was Christmas Eve. My sister and I opened the door and looked out the window over and over-again. I got so wound up that a major breathing attack was triggered every Christmas break. The tree was up and decorated, candles lit, fire burning, mom smoking. Not the ideal clear air quality for a little asthmatic kid. I wheezingly anticipated the arrival of friends and relatives.

Mouths watered as we waited on the viands. Kugel was coming, chopped-liver checking in soon, breads and fruits, crackers and cheese. Coffee percolated in the kitchen as cousins and friends began to arrive. Hors d'oeuvres were unwrapped and set out to eat. My dog Sam the Samoyed told, “No! Get in the kitchen.” He knew somehow that his persistence would pay off and was soon back amongst the food and the children.

The main course arrived later year after year. We were hungry for dinner and antsy for presents. Plus it was past bedtime-but tonight that didn’t matter. After dinner everybody adjourned to the big white couch in the living room. Mom and Aunt Rhoda fought the yearly battle over doing the dishes because ‘guests don’t do dishes.’

Every family has their gift-opening tradition. At our house the youngest passed out the gifts and we tried to open them one-by-one. Christmas music was turned down as Pacehelbel gave way to presents. I don’t remember what everyone got that year though that my cousin, ever into music, got a Neil Diamond record. As the evening wore on white Christmas faded into Hot August Night.

One by one the gifts were opened. Meanwhile the children began throwing wrapping paper into the fireplace. Different papers inspired flares of variegated colour; greens, blues and reds; big flames and fiery ignitions. Then it happened. A wrapping paper tube was set into the blaze. But only partially. Smoke, instead of going up the chimney, went up the tube and into the room. Children screamed for parents. Easily remedied the tube was pushed all the way into the fireplace.

Many Christmases have past since then with many changes, death and sickness among them. ‘Long lays the world in sin and error, longing for His appearance’. Fires of life and darkness of death have taken many family members over these forty years. This year I celebrate with different family and new traditions. Every year I still look to Christmas with bated (and still a bit wheezy) breath ‘A thrill of hope; the weary world rejoices.’ An opportunity for new and rich memories, and treasured old ones. And hope for the future.
‘For yonder breaks a new and glorious morn. Christ is the Lord!
O praise His Name forever,
His power and glory evermore proclaim.’

Saturday, December 10, 2011

The Christmas Wars

Where are the faraway kingdoms of dreams?
They vanished in the mist with Saint Nicholas,
and lie scattered to the ghettos and the war zones.
Why? Why? Why?

I said, "Why? Mama, why?"
Why can't I sleep in peace tonight underneath the satellite sky? ---Mark Heard, Sattelite Sky


At the core of Christmas ever lies the tension between peace and war, self promotion and sacrifice. For while the angels were saying “On earth peace to those on whom his favor rests,” Herod was slaughtering every child under the age of two. At its core the Christmas manger lays in a field of battle.

“Then another sign appeared in heaven: an enormous red dragon with seven heads and ten horns and seven crowns on its heads. Its tail swept a third of the stars out of the sky and flung them to the earth. The dragon stood in front of the woman who was about to give birth, so that it might devour her child the moment he was born.”
The Dragon slaughters and roars and makes war with the saints. It doesn’t feel that way though.

We get caught up in a storm of busyness. Presents are purchased, goodies baked, parties made, lights hung up, cards dispatched---and we become short-sighted. It is easy to lose sight of our service and our worship. We cuss out the woman who bumps into us in line at the store then get into our car and turn on the Christmas music. There is a disconnect between our actions and their purpose. We are in danger of losing heart and soul amidst the material.

The soldier learns to eat his MRE in the midst of battle and the ER doctor tells a light-hearted story while stitching up her patient. We sit in stuffed chairs and tell tepid tales of Santa Claus and reindeer as if the heavenly powers war over the identity of Kris Kringle. We give no thought to our own allegiance. We are content to bring our picnic baskets out to the battle and eat our cheese and crackers; “Oh I do hope the good-guys win.”

Good was won the day Christ was born. We live in the intermission. Though we may sing, “Give peace a chance,” the dragon will continue to roar and Herods will persist in persecution. Our call is to make known our allegiance and suffer hardship accordingly. Next time when you are out shopping and someone runs into you, or you hear that screaming child---listen and you may hear the dragon roaring. Do not be afraid for there is news of great joy, “Glory to God in the highest,
And on earth pace among men with whom He is pleased.”