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Thursday, December 24, 2009

Unto us, a Savior is given.

Well, having written more than a few sermons in the past 48 hours, I confess that I am fresh out of ideas for a blog entry today. 

I also don't have much time to scout around the internet, looking for something witty or clever to bring you.  I've got a few pastoral calls to make, a few liturgical details to chase, a few presents to wrap - oh, and a few things to prepare for tonight and tomorrow's family feast.

I even found myself distracted in my morning prayer time.  What to write? What to post?

And then, it dawned on me - or shone like a bright star in the East on the dullness of my insight - that, despite my best efforts, I had done exactly the opposite of what I had been writing in my sermons - what I intend to preach twice tonight and once tomorrow. 

I wanted to write something perfect.  A perfect little Christmas essay.

And, isn't that what many of us want - a 'perfect Christmas'?

Christmas is the one day on the calendar when any medical professional - including, I understand, the newly popular Dr. Oz -  can tell you that hospital Emergency Rooms and Intensive Care Units will be filled with people who have suffered heart attacks and strokes.

There is a sad irony here.  While we await the birth of The Savior, we are so busy trying to live up to culturally imposed expectations to save ourselves from a sense of failure that we are killing ourselves.

So, I'm letting go of all that - well, I'm actively trying to do that - and letting one of the masters of storytelling do what he does best.  This is Garrison Keillor's Christmas essay which appeared in my mailbox this morning from Salon.Com.

It's about sharing tears and making someone laugh.  It's about what's important about Christmas - not our ideals of perfection but our imperfect humanity.

It's about the greatest gift anyone can ever give at Christmas or anytime - the gift of the authentic self, vulnerable, imperfect, and fully human - which no store on Madison Avenue can wrap and no Hollywood film can conceive or deliver.

So, g'won.  Read what Mr. Keillor has to say.

And then, try to relax.  It's going to be okay (she says to herself, hoping others are listening). 

Here's the good news:  We already have a Savior. And, it's not you.  And, it's not me.

Perhaps, once we get our heads wrapped around the enormity of THAT gift, we can liberate ourselves from the tyranny of perfection and become, ourselves, vehicles of God's saving grace.

May your Christmas be most holy and blessed.  May you, yourself, become someone's Christmas angel, bringing glad tidings that unto us a child is born, unto us a Savior is given - and, it's not any one of us.

For it is in such simple acts of every day life that, I suspect, we shall know the unspeakable, deep joy of of those ancient shepherds, who were just out there, watching their flocks by night.

My Christmas vision

In a 10th Avenue deli, an elegant girl from the prairie manages a herd of damaged boys with grace and good humor

By Garrison Keillor

Dec. 23, 2009 |

My little girl was born within a week of Christmas and, believe you me, conceiving one to hatch on target like that is no simple task. It takes planning and biotechnology, and the male is force-fed raw oysters, and the female must hang upside down in a dark room for hours.

I was 55 at the time and remember it well. This bonus baby was the last grandchild in my family, a last attempt to breed some frivolity and high-spiritedness into our somber Anglo line, and we seem to have succeeded. She is a socialite and comedian who shows almost no interest in clothes or toys or other material goods, despite our best efforts, and who only craves beautiful experiences such as swimming, a train ride, a party, lunch in a cafe with tablecloths and oddball waiters, or a stage show with singing and dancing and not too much smooching (euuuuuuu).

We brought her to New York in time to catch the big Christmas snowstorm, and she got to see the Radio City Christmas show in which one Rockette kicked off a shoe and kept dancing though off-kilter. Priceless.

We parents don't teach delight. We try to cover the basic stuff such as Please and Thank You and why you should take turns. You browbeat your kid into sticking with a job and finishing it and you praise the results, whether brilliant or only above average. You teach your child that there is a time to come home, and it's sooner than you think: that nothing good happens after 1 a.m.

This is a hard lesson to learn. The world looks rather magical after all the working stiffs have gone to bed. The stars twinkle through the trees and around 2 a.m. you're feeling like the law of gravity may not apply to you. By 3 a.m., you're ready to quit the day job and become a famous movie star.

We try to save our children from wild, unreal expectations. And now here is Christmas, a wild story of 3 a.m. miracles if ever there was one. It surely isn't about good manners or good work habits. We teach it to our children, each in our own version, and God alone knows what they make of it all.

My own Christmas vision appeared three days before Christmas, in a deli on 10th Avenue in New York, where a rather elegant young woman was managing a herd of eight teenage boys, ordering their breakfasts from the lady behind the counter. The boys spoke Spanish, which the young woman translated into English for the counter lady. I'm standing there, waiting my turn, observing. The boys are docile, cautious, soft-spoken, and then it dawns on me that they are so because of brain damage, mild retardation, however you want to put it, and the young woman is their hired shepherd. A teacher's aide, perhaps. Probably minimum wage. She is lovely, green-eyed, dark hair spilling down on a puffy parka, red wool scarf, and her English sounds very Midwestern to me.

The boys want muffins for breakfast except one boy who earnestly desires a sesame bagel, toasted, with cream cheese, but the deli is all out of sesame, and this is a cruel disappointment to him. He really was counting on it. When you are 14 and so desperately vulnerable in the big city, you do pin your hopes on certain small pleasures. His face crumples and he is about to melt, and the elegant young green-eyed woman puts her head down next to his where he sits slumped on the deli stool. Her pale cheek against his cheek, she murmurs to him and a string of his enormous tears runs onto her face and she wipes it away and says something in Spanish that makes him laugh. And then I notice at the end of her red scarf, the word "Nebraska." Nobody would wear this in New York except a Nebraskan.

I might've asked her a few questions, but she had turned her street face toward me, and so I didn't bother her. A girl from the prairie using her Spanish to care for damaged boys in a callous world where, contrary to everything the Savior said, the poor and powerless get short shrift -- in the U.S. Senate and elsewhere -- and she is sharing the tears of the sesame boy and making him laugh. She's my Christmas angel. I hope she gets to go to a party and sing and dance until 3 a.m.

(Garrison Keillor is the author of "77 Love Sonnets," published by Common Good Books.)

© 2009 by Garrison Keillor. All rights reserved. Distributed by Tribune Media Services, Inc.


Kirkepiscatoid said...

Isn't it interesting, Elizabeth, how many times during this season we stress over the "perfrection" of it all--the perfect gift, the perfect meal, the perfect sentiment--that we forget how imperfect the actual even that triggered this season was?

I thought about that this morning when you, me and Bill were discussing the joys of sledding on broken down cardboard boxes. Want to bet someone in our families longed to buy us the perfect sled, maybe even scrimp and save to buy us that shiny red Flexible Flyer--and all the while we were having the time of our lives, sledding on cardboard boxes!

alicia said...

thanx - & merry christmas to u - our virtual priestess

Magdalene6127 said...

Thanks so much for this Elizabeth. I'm reading it between services; the reminder that I'm not the savior is timely.

A beautiful and blessed Christmas to you and yours!