Monday, December 12, 2011
The Center of It All
It seems that unless we got to Church before anyone else, my dad considered us "late." But then he had always taken great ownership of the church building and things associated with my home congregation. His ancestors began that congregation in the late 1800s. His grandparents and parents are buried in the cemetery just out back of the altar. I understand his protective and loving care of the Church and the ministry there. So on Christmas Eve we got to Church early -- generally before anyone else, even the Pastor. He checked the thermostats, turned on the lights, and made sure everything was ready. First was the children's Christmas program. Always on Christmas Eve and always before a packed congregation. It ended with the Christmas service. It seemed to take half a day but it was probably only a couple of hours we were there.
The one consolation was that every child received a bag of candy and a piece of fruit -- usually the brightest and most shiny red apple ever surrounded by some peanuts in the shell, some chocolates, and some hard candies (you know the rippled hard candies that cut your tongue if you weren't careful as they melted away in your mouth). At the end of it all, my brother and mom and I would made our way to the cold car to wait for dad. As he was first there, so he was last to leave. Everything turned on, had to be turned off and such. We never thought of starting the car to warm it up. We sat huddled together in the cold waiting for dad so we could head home.
Home on Christmas Eve was a meal of oyster stew, some head cheese, some soft caraway seeded cheese called Bond-Ost, some homemade rye bread, and the like. Typical Swedish fare (mom's side) but it was good stuff. We opened a few gifts (we did not get much more) and headed off to bed. At 4 am, we got up and walked down the 6-8 blocks to my maternal grandparents to accompany them to Julotta -- Swedes get up ridiculously early for the first service of Christmas at dawn. Then we all headed to my parents to eat. Another gift or two and then, for most of us, it was a nap.
Now some of you might think that sounds incredibly dull, almost cruel in its absence of great family oriented traditions, but, for us, the Church was the center of it all. I don't mean this in some pious or prideful sense but this was just simply how it was. Christ was the center of everything we knew growing up. For me, this is Christmas. It matters not that I am a Pastor. I would try to do the very same thing for my family if I was not a Lutheran Pastor. Christ and the Church are the center of it all. Period.
Perhaps this was the best gift I had growing up -- growing up in a home overtly Christian and confidently Lutheran... in which Church was not on the fringes of our lives but the center... where our extended family gathered as the family of God with folks we had no blood relationship to -- except through the blood of Christ!
I used to cringe and now just sigh when people ask me "where are you spending Christmas, Pastor?" Where, indeed? But it is not about work. It is about Christ. We spend Christmas at Church -- singing the carols, hearing the familiar lessons, receiving the Sacrament, holding the candle in the darkness, the strains of Silent Night in German echoing away in the still moment of the greatest gift of God revealed in the manger so He might show Himself on the cross... The wonderful thing is that my kids never rebelled -- they understood just as I had growing up... it is about Christ... it is in the Church... for it to be Christmas... They still come to all the services (hearing the same sermon twice), singing in choir, ushering, playing flute, etc. In this way I see the tradition of my family growing up continued in our life together around the Word and Table of the Lord on the feast of the Nativity...