Summary: Peace comes hard for some at Christmas. We must be open to what God wants to give, we must get down to what God wants us to be doing, and we must find meaning in our ordinary pursuits.
National Baptist Memorial Church, Washington, DC, Dec. 19, 2004
These are stressful days. There is too much going on. Too much work, too much to think about, too many demands. Stressful. We’d really like some peace, wouldn’t we? Just a moment or two of quiet – wouldn’t that be great? But there is too much going on for that. Too much in the world, too much in Iraq, too much in Ukraine, too much crime, too much in Adams Morgan, too much at 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue! I remember that Dr. Grizzard used to say that this church was located between the zoo and the White House, and sometimes it was hard to tell the difference! Too much.
Too much traveling. I heard an astonishing statistic. I heard that 61 million Americans will be in the air, on the rails, or on the highways, traveling for Christmas. Hey, if there are that many going to see other folks, will the other folks be there when they arrive? Too much traveling, too much stress, too much. Gifts to buy, cards to write, trees to trim, mince pies to make – or in my case, to taste. Lots to do. What we wouldn’t give at our house for a day or two of peace!
Oh, wait, you say. I thought you were retired, or semi-retired. How can you have too much to do? It is true that I won’t have pastoral work to do this year. People at Takoma Park had a terrible habit of dying at Christmas time; I always had to work in a funeral or two along with Christmas Eve and everything else. I don’t have that this year, but I tell you, between medical visits and grandchildren and grading final exams for my seminary students and getting ready for a new job, I think I am as stressed out as I have ever been at Christmas. Peace! Where do I go for that precious commodity?
But now on top of all of that – on top of the hurry and scurry, the too much to do and too little money to pay for it – on top of all of that, there is something else that stresses us. It’s not just the hurry and the rush that get to us at Christmas. This season brings back hurts and pains we thought we had left behind. This season opens up old wounds, and the losses and defeats of the past crowd into our memories. It’s not easy to feel peace when you remember what you have lost or think about the mistakes you cannot correct. Old wounds stress us and steal our peace.
Not long ago someone connected to our family – a young man, only sixteen years old, took his own life. No one knows why, but we do know lots of folks hurt because of this, and among them our niece and nephew, the cousins of this young man. So our son, Bryan, who is also their cousin, but on their father’s side, and who never even knew the young man in question – our son decided that he would go and invest some time with those two teenagers. When he told us why he wanted to do that, it came as a revelation to us. Bryan said, “You know, it’s only been in the last few years that I’ve enjoyed Christmas again. Grandpa Rust died at Christmas in 1991, and Grandma Smith died at Christmas in 1992, and for several years I just dreaded Christmas.” I say that came as a revelation, because it wasn’t obvious to us that he was feeling that, but he was. It took him quite a while to get past those wounds. It’s not easy to feel peace at this time of the year when you remember what you have lost or think about those mistakes you cannot correct.