I sat there in church on Christmas morning as the chants began, wondering when it would hit me.
Every year, it seems, I have a difficult time focusing on the reality of the Nativity of Christ. Part of this is my job as a letter carrier: it is pretty hard to be recollected when you are being overworked.
And part of it is the holly jolly sleigh bells roasting on an open fire, right down Santa Claus Lane: the whole Snow Feast which has latched itself unto the celebration of the Incarnation like a lamprey on a particularly succulent fish. The holy bishop of Myra is transmuted into a fat elf, the gift of the Magi replaced by the orgy of avarice that is Black Friday and all the rest of it. I know, some well-meaning folks have attempted to rescue St Nicholas by portraying Santa kneeling before Jesus in the manger, but this joins the Precious Moments Nativity in my gallery of Religious Art from Hell. (Have you seen a Precious Moments Crucifixion? Me neither, thank God.)
Besides that, it seems that circumstances conspire every year to make sure that the bulk of Christmas preparations fall upon my reluctant shoulders. This year it was the fact that some child or other has been sick since Thanksgiving, at least. A couple of them recover, only to fall prey to the next virus. This year wasn’t as bad as the one that saw me enduring an all day shopping marathon while in the early stages of the flu, but it was harried enough.
And to get the full sense of how I was feeling that morning, you have to understand my Christmas eve.
Generally the supervisors at the Post Office try hard to get everything done early so the carriers can get out early the night before Christmas, but Monday everything seemed to go wrong. The mail sorting machines broke. The truck was late. There was a sick call. In the end I left the office an hour late, with a nearly two hour chunk of another route. Fine, I wouldn’t be leaving early.
Then it began to snow.
If you are not close to a letter carrier you are probably unaware that the boxy-looking trucks they give us, while pretty efficient for the normal handling of mail, are really bad in the snow. Rear wheel drive and very light, they are comparable to a pickup truck with nothing in the back. A few inches of snow and they are useless. If you have to go up any sort of hill forget it; you are going to go in circles.
In the end, even after calling for assistance, I didn’t get home until after 7pm, having put in an 11 1/2 hour day.
Then I began the task of wrapping presents. Every year I say I am going to wrap them when I get them so I am not stuck with the whole thing on Christmas Eve, and every year I end up doing just that, wrapping.
So I finally turned in around midnight, sleeping on the couch just in case, as I have done since I was awakened by an intruder a few weeks ago.
In the dark I was awakened by excited whispers. “What are you doing?” I asked groggily.
“It’s Christmas!” “Can we get our stockings?” replied the small voices.
“What time is it?”
Maria checked the lighted clock on the stove. “2:10” she said.
“IT’S THE MIDDLE OF THE NIGHT! GO BACK TO BED!”
Repeat that scene at 3:15. And 4:12.
Finally at 5:20 I relented and arose to distribute the gifts.
Then off to St George’s Romanian Catholic cathedral, where we have been attending regularly.
This happens every year, but at some point the wondrous reality of the Nativity, of inconceivable God being conceived of a woman and born a small helpless baby hits me. It is beyond beautiful, though it is rendered mundane by familiarity.
But this year it was illusive. I was worn out, trying to pay attention to the Divine Liturgy. (I swear I have LADD: Liturgical Attention Deficit Disorder.)
Then Bishop John Michael began his homily.
The Bishop is a fine homilist; his sermons pretty reliably make me uncomfortable with their persistent call to discipleship, and even martyrdom.
He began by weaving words from the Pope’s Christmas Eve address into the words of the splendid carol “Oh, Holy Night” and by the time he had finished I was again aware of the marvel of the Incarnation, sitting there in gratitude.
Afterwards, there was a potluck feast, and the children performed their Nativity play, adorable as only such a thing can be.
And it was Christmas. And I was awake.
Again and again the beauty of this Gospel touches our hearts: a beauty that is the splendour of truth. Again and again it astonishes us that God makes himself a child so that we may love him, so that we may dare to love him, and as a child trustingly lets himself be taken into our arms. It is as if God were saying: I know that my glory frightens you, and that you are trying to assert yourself in the face of my grandeur. So now I am coming to you as a child, so that you can accept me and love me.
-From Benedict XVI’s Christmas Eve homily