All this year we’ve been talking about newness. More than talking, we’ve been experiencing it, creating it. And we’ve been defining newness as “good as yet unimaginable.” When you let that definition sink in, the hairs on the back of your neck will stand up. How good can it get?? Can you imagine good that’s unimaginable?
It’s been showing up around here, and in the lives of our congregants, all year. And now it’s Christmas. Like Thanksgiving last month, it’s a time of traditions, of doing the same things in the same way we’ve always done them, and, by and large, wanting it that way. Many a Christmas tragedy has been written about not having the traditional Christmas. Yet here I am, agitating for a new Christmas! I’ve worked for years to get Christmas down pat, to know how to do it efficiently, and to add in all the things that will make it “just right.” I can do Christmas in my sleep.
But now I want to wake up! Sure, I know I’ll keep all those things that “it just wouldn’t be Christmas” without. I’ll watch “It’s A Wonderful Life” and love it for the umpteenth time. I’ll read “A Christmas Carol” for the umpteenth and a half time and still be moved. But I know I’m wide open for something new. Something unimaginable. There is something innately new about Christmas, something unimaginably good about the birth of Jesus, the one who brought us that teaching that would lead us to a new experience of life, one without pain, evil, or death.
I was listening to someone recently talk about how Christmas was when they were a kid and I was suddenly, almost violently, propelled backward in time, in a kind of emotional time capsule, to feel what I felt when I was six, one of the first Christmases I have much memory of. I could remember, at a cellular level, the excitement I felt about Christmas, shimmering, explosive excitement. And it was excitement over nothing! I knew for a certainty I wouldn’t wake up to a roomful of presents. There wouldn’t be terrific food or a big party or magical decorations or lots of fun events. Not even a big family gathering (although with eight kids in the family, every gathering was big enough!). What was I so excited about? It suddenly hit me: without the vocabulary to express it, I was excited at the opportunity to be transported by awe. I always wanted to feel something different, something that would lift me out of my everyday life. I desperately wanted to feel something that was like magic, and Christmas gave that hope. The memory that took me back to that was thinking of when my older brother and I decided to take a walk on Christmas day. It was pouring rain and we took refuge in a doorway for a moment. Across the street was a big church and suddenly bells started playing Christmas carols. I looked up at the steeple and could almost see music made visible. I was completely transfixed by the rain and the golden sound and I knew and felt Christmas, something outside my ordinary life.
This Christmas I don’t want to just go back and feel that awe, although that wouldn’t be a bad place to go! I want to go some place unimaginable. Regardless of our age, regardless of how many times we’ve “done Christmas,” there exists that possibility of transformation. Everything at Christmas supports us in going within, doing the spiritual exercise that will get us there. And if we can get it done at Christmas, there is that hope that we can, then, do it everyday. I’ve heard others talk about how they spent weeks searching for their mother’s hiding place, wanting to know what they would be getting for Christmas, unable to wait. I never did that. For one thing, my mother wouldn’t have needed much of a hiding place! But more than that, I never wanted to know. I always wanted to be surprised. I wanted something unimaginable.
I want that still, and I want it for you. Have an imaginably great Christmas, and a truly new year.