House of Bread
After weeks of moaning, longing and hoping, Christmas has come. I find myself sighing, a sigh of relaxation, and sliding deeper into this season of Christmas as if it were a warm bath. I want to savor it, to drink it in.
In the evangelical churches of my youth, Christmas was just one day. The culture was one of countdown, far from the quiet anguish I experience now (when are you coming, Lord?). There was a family in my life who celebrated Christmas in twelve days, hosting parties of games and singing. I thought, then, that they were extending the day, attempting to hold onto something that was not meant to be captured.
It wasn't until I began to wade into the waters of liturgy and the church year that I realized that Christmas was a season. The "12 Days of Christmas" was not just a catchy counting song, but a representation of what was meant to be celebrated.
There is room in Christmas, I learned.
There is room for fresh flowers and cookies for breakfast. There is room for naps near a twinkling tree that stays up into January, waiting for Epiphany. There is room for a little more quiet festivity, and parties, and wine. There is room to gather and hug, and get used to the idea that the long awaited One has come at last (and is coming again). Twelve days seems not enough all of the sudden. I need each one of them. ...
On Christmas Eve, I left my warm house at 9:45pm and went to church. It's my first Christmas at my church, and I'm a little nervous, a little shy, like a new bride. Will this gift be appreciated? Will I? I don't know how Christmas works around here, what to expect.
Slowly, they've been pulling me in, a Bible Study invite here, a membership class there. After I stood before the congregation and declared my faith and commitment to the church, I found my name in the newsletter next to December 30th, a day set aside just to pray for me.
This week, my pastor wrote to ask if I would read from the lectionary for Christmas Eve. I agreed.
I shook, just a little as I walked to the pulpit, finding the lectionary open, my reading clearly set out before me. "The people who walked in darkness have seen a great light," I began, slowing myself down as I went, trying not to trip over my words. I looked up at the people assembled, my people, my church, before concluding with: "the word of the Lord," and hearing, "thanks be to God," in response. ...
I tried my best to do Advent well this year. Still, as I watched, things fell apart. Not in a dramatic, or tragic way, but the way a cookie crumbles without enough butter. My lovely art-print Advent calendar could not protect me from the tides of this season. I hung on and tried to listen.
I find, sometimes, that listening is the first thing that I lose when I am stressed or busy or tired. In the midst of trying just to keep going I forget that I desperately need to stay still.
Advent was like a pressure point on a sore muscle this year. Take care of this, it beckoned, give this some attention. Now, in the first hours of these twelve days, I am giving in, taking a breath, and then another. I see you, I tell myself, quietly, I hear you. ...
I kept yawning as I sat in church, listening to readings from the books of Luke and Micah, singing carols I've sung for years, and one, "Lo How a Rose E'er Blooming" that I'd not sung until that night, but have long loved because of this essay.
When it came time for the homily, my pastor began talking about bread, about Bethlehem, which means House of Bread, and about communion. Then, to my surprise, she told the congregation about a conversation she and I had a month or two ago.
I'd been coming to church for several weeks, and each Sunday I noticed that the communion bread was different. "Who makes the bread?" I asked.
She told me that it was a group effort which provided the pita, whole wheat, seeded, or challah each week.
"I like that," I told her. "It's like Jesus. He never seemed to do things exactly the same way twice." Knowing that the bread is made with the hands of my community only adds to this metaphor. These images of God all bring something different to the table, it makes sense that their bread would be different, too.
It's Christmas Day as I write this, day one of a festive, reflective season for me. I used to bemoan the fact that I didn't feel as I had at the Christmases of my youth, as I got older. I wanted to recapture the person I'd been, the way things were then.
Today I'm choosing to embrace the different bread of this Christmas. The taste is not familiar, but it is nourishing. I hold out my hands to be filled.
In case you missed it in the pre-Christmas rush, I wrote a piece I rather like on Monday, it's called "Good Things," I'd love to have you join me there.