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What Brings Real Joy at Christmas?

Today's post is from The Rev. Dr. Marilyn Sewell, an accomplished Unitarian Univeralist minister, writer, activist, and spiritual leader. She retired from parish ministry in 2009, after serving 17 years as the Senior Minister of the First Unitarian Church of Portland, Oregon, and was named Minister Emerita. Sewell is the editor and author of many books, including Breaking Free: Women of Spirit at Mid-Life and Beyond and Resurrecting Grace: Remembering Catholic Childhood. She is the subject of the award-winning documentary, Raw Faith. This post also appeared on her personal blog, Reflections.

Sewell For those of us for who celebrate Christmas, it is a holiday rich with potential--potential for joy and potential for angst.  I have experienced Christmases all along that continuum.  This Christmas some will be reminded of those loved ones who are gone from us and will be present in spirit but no longer in body; some of us will be far from our children; some of us will find it stressful to get into the Christmas festivities, while others will find it fun; some will be reunited with those they love and haven't seen for a while; some will find their usual loneliness only the more acute; other will receive an engagement ring and the hope of love that will last so long as they both shall live.  Yes, the whole human catastophe! 

That's what Jesus was born into, as well.  Mary's long ride on a donkey, in the bitter cold.  No room in the inn.  The loving arms of Joseph.  Shelter in the stable.  The miracle of the star that brought promise to those struggling.  The wondering eyes of the shepherds.  The gifts of the Magi.   

I have had--well, I suppose it is 69 Christmases!  On the whole, I'd have to say that they weigh in fairly heavily on the sadness scale, for all the usual reasons: alcoholism in the family, divorce, separation from loved ones, loneliness.  But even the childhood Christmases, problematic as they were, had their lovely moments.  We never bought a tree--we went out into some farmer's field, crawled under the barbed wire, and cut a tree down, which is what everybody else did, too.  The aunts and uncles and cousins came to my grandparents' home, where we lived, and amazing smells emanated from the kitchen, while the men smoked, joked, and told stories in the parlor.  My little sister, Donna, always woke me up at 5:00 AM on Christmas morning, to see what Santa had brought.  My grandfather always gave each one of us children a shiny new silver dollar.  We children always gave our father, who worked in the oil field, a metal lunch box, which he promptly "lost."  Years later, he told us that those metal boxes rattled in the car when the roughnecks returned from the oilfield, preventing them from sleeping. 

Now I'm finding that it's the simple things that seem to hold me close and keep me warm: making gingerbread cookies with my grandchildren; seeing the Christmas boats go by on the Willamette; wrapping little "secret Santa" gifts; planning the details of a Christmas dinner; talking on the phone (unlimited minutes!) to those far away; seeing a dog in a silly Santa hat; trimming our tree; hearing the familiar carols; and most of all, feeling safe and feeling loved. 

That's the prayer, then, that I'm sending out for the whole wide world during this special season: I wish that every single person--every man, woman, and especially every child, could be warm and safe and loved.  That's the heart of Christmas for me.  Amen and amen.