Thursday, December 27, 2012

Christmas Eve: God in us


The stomach cramps are gone but the exhaustion remains. Hours before  Christmas Eve grow short. Danielle heading to California for Christmas soon. Just enough time to squeeze out the Christmas Eve service before she leaves. I’m floundering until I find the 2003 liturgy that Katherine created. Uses the same liturgical lectionary sequence as this year. Gives me something to work from.

Time to switch the sanctuary over from Advent purple to the white of Christmas. And set out the Christmas Eve candles graciously shared with us by SanctuaryNYC from last night’s celebration.

Then a last effort to wrap up shopping and everything I couldn’t do with the unexpected events of last week and getting sick. The pressure and stress has been  unrelenting for so long. Teddy’s death was like the final push. Like my body saying, OK, so you say you can’t stop, can’t slow down? I’ll show you. 

Stop back to drop and pick up packages.Take a  final look around. Kara is asleep on the first pew. She stirs a little.  Tells me she hasn’t been able to sleep since the loss of her beloved Isaac, a neighbor shopkeeper last week . Now she’s finally able to sleep. In this safe space. 

Stephen and I go through everything. Looks OK. We ask Kara to leave for awhile as we close up until right before service. Stepping outside, I see Rachelle. Hesitate. She says, Don’t you go away. There’s need of you. Right now. That woman...and the man on the steps...there’s need of you...

We go around the corner and there is a conflict between Anna and George. As always, she is looking out for the church. And has her suspicions about George. She may be right.  I explain he’s welcome here for his periodic visits. Michael, another homeless man from the ‘hood comes up to convince us that there’s nothin wrong with George, he cool, and if we think he’s into any wrong stuff, we got the wrong guy.  I tell him I know, I know. 

George is as beside himself as I’ve seen him get. Words sputtering  out in an angry flow.  I’m catching ...woman...bitch...ho....among other words recognizable and otherwise. 

Anna says that if I’m cool with George, it’s cool with her. Then she tries to gently cajole George out of his anger using the functional street savvy I’ve seen her so effectively utilize so many times in different situations. Not working with George who continues to sputter. Out of my face....not a me.... I tell him its OK, no more conversation. 
Rachelle has been observing the whole scene.  

We turn the corner and back to the side door. I need to get out for awhile.  Stephen says Everyday of the week. And I reply And twice on Sundays...

On my way home, I stop by Barney Geengrass to pick up sable and sturgeon. Years ago, Andrea said she’d give a lot to skip the annual drive to Pittsburgh for Christmas and just stay home and eat breakfast at Barney Greengrass. So I started stopping here on Christmas Eve to bring Barney Greengrass home. Today, I’m in line behind Matt Dillon. I remember being in Tulsa, watching him shoot  Franics Ford Coppola’s take on the Outsiders. That was too long ago. I do what we do as New Yorkers, which is respect the anonymity of anyone famous or not.  When I get to the front of the line, I get ready to pay Gary and he says, You know what Reverend, good yontuf.  Know what what means? 
Sure do, Gary. Good holiday.
He smiles. Yeah, good yontuf. 

And soon enough, the waiting is over, it’s Christmas Eve. Andre has come to be my liturgical support. James has arrived. Nate and Dan will soon be here. And as always, there are guests.

My grandfather's "Yule Tie"
As the service begins, I am aware that with every Christmas, all Christmases past come flowing over you in a kaleidoscope of images. Our own individual Scrooge journey. The  excitement of after almost twenty years in ministry creating my own Christmas Eve in my own church. And our own family Christmas Eve traditions. Always wearing my grandfather’s depression era Yule tie. Home after services for the dinner we shared with others. The shifting faces around the table.  Taking candles to the Quebecois across the street. When I couldn’t get Sybille to change her own long standing tradition, taking candles to her house after our service and singing We wish you a Merry Christmas...until the year the split came with Lauren and then....well,  no more...The faces around our family table. Many gone now, for one reason or another. And the pain of missing them. Brokeness and regret. The years of the quartet. The amazing years of Larry Woodard and the Sunday Morning Circle... The inimitable Bill Schimmel and our service on Christmas Eve 2001...begun with a performance piece by his wife Mickey....a perfect night of poignance, ambivalence and beauty.....the commitment to move beyond the traditional lessons and carols liturgy to something more move beyond the liturgical theology of everything was darkness then Jesus came and presto chango light...having enough resources to actually strive to create the perfect Christmas Eve liturgy....and Katherine came close in 2003...closing the building for three years...coming to do a simple service on the steps, just to show we were there in 2009, actually coming back in 2010...with no heat, no bathrooms......all these images rushing, flowing, by...

I have come to accept that each Christmas is its own on its own terms. Can’t be forced into any preconceived box or even compared and none will ever be perfect. That is the nature of how Christmas comes. In the midst of... That is incarnation...In the middle of I accept this one as it is with its own gifts. The community that is here is my community. And my family.  This is who we are this Christmas.   

Years ago  my ministry colleague Jan, then at Jan Hus across the Park, said that for those of us non-destination churches, on Christmas Eve, when so many of our members  have returned to their homes for the holidays, we discover our true communities, those always around us though not always visible. 
I share some of all this with the congregation.  Some. 

I’m more concerned with how it feels to celebrate Christmas in Newtown, Connecticut tonight. I recall last year Occupy Faith seeking to deliver a mini Occupy tent with a holy family inside to Trinity Wall Street. And that gift being taken away, rejected.

This year, I wonder where would Jesus be born tonight? In a mold infested unlighted bungalow in Far Rockaway? Inside the police cafe comfort  tent on Midland Beach? That’s the hard, raw, beautiful side of incarnation....born among the outsiders, the shepherds, the suspicious gypsies. And angel choirs with flamenco guitar. Here is where the Christ child is born.

I ask Andre what he feels moved to sing. And slowly he moves into Sister Mary hada but one child.... and I remember back to Larry’s arrangement for dueling sopranos, for Lauren and Andrea Bradford. And tonight, the simple poignance of Andre's solo voice. 

We light our candles. Sing Silent Night. And finally Joy to the World. The service is over. 

Stephen is talking to the visiting family. Apparently they came here ten years ago. I try and remember,as they remember me, back in the day. Stephen has discovered the man's a musician. He’s being his best ambassador. I remember a day or so ago overhearing him doing the rap on our social history for visitors. He is owning it. Making it his. i look down the aisle. See Kara and Rachelle walking up side by side. In their flowing black clothes, like vestments, they could be sisters in a medieval holy order convent. Les soeurs petites de notre dame de West-Park. 

Rachelle telling me her beautiful Christmas gifts for me and my assistant, vanished, disappeared, gone...I tell her it's ok. 

Kara's has given gifts of peacock feathers to every guest. I take candles and peacock feathers across the street to our Quebecois amis. Knocking down, loading up. Their visitation  done. In a few hours, on their way back home. Montreal by noon. Christmas at home with their families. 

We’re walking home. Someone had mentioned One flew over the coockoo’s nest. Dan wants to know if the more eccentric community member might scare off visitors. Maybe, I say, but that’s not the point. We need to bring  in more who understand the beauty and value of radical hospitality. Dan wonders. Dinner awaits. Christmas has arrived. Emmanuel...God in us. God in us.

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