It's the night before the night before Christmas eve. We bought a little food for the simple Christmas eve dinner tonight. A little earlier, while I was at church, a man walked in with a bag of hay for the manger.
This is my office right now: boxes and wrapping paper, some old sermons, a stack of books of stories, three illustrated books of carols on the floor, files of worship materials, notes paper-clipped together, a pair of shoes shoved in the corner.
This is my house right now: the angel is on top of the tree, but the coffee table needs to be cleaned off. The stockings are hung by the chimney, a poinsettia on the small dining room table. There's an old bill that needs to be paid right away. Junk mail. A creche.
Some things are settled. Other things will be settled, in some way or another, whether to my liking or not. Some things will never be settled.
For some reason this year, I found a few of my old Christmas sermons. I re-read them, perhaps in a fit of nostalgia, perhaps looking for some fresh inspiration. I don't really know.
You know what struck me?
Despite all the changes in the world in the last several years, many things don't seem to change. Lately, bubbles have burst, and unemployment miseries are high. The future is uncertain. We are at war. Some people are grieving, others are rejoicing. Common themes: tears, joy, children, straw.
The well of human misery is deep. I am always struck by this. Perhaps there are a few people who sail through life without experiencing much hardship, doubt, or loneliness, or failure. But I haven't met many of them. Start listening, really listening to people, and you hear stories: stories of all the ways people can be broken, stories of all the ways people can stumble.
And yet, I don't think this is what life is all about. The well of human misery is deep, and that experience binds us together, but it is not who we are.
It is the night before the night before Christmas eve. The future is uncertain, except that in two days, ready or not, the baby will be placed in our arms, the angels choirs will sing, the shepherds will shade their eyes. In two days the weary couple will find shelter. In two days people will be singing Silent Night in the dark, clutching a candle.
That is who we are. The well of human misery is deep, but this is who we really really are: we are the ones who sing in the dark, who clutch candles, who hold the baby in our arms, and look into his eyes.