How easy it is to get caught up in the busy-ness, the doing, the decorating, the cooking, the sending, the buying, the eating of Christmas. Now don’t get me wrong, I love each of these parts of Christmas –- setting up the Christmas tree and hanging decorations, making home-made sugar cookies and drinking egg nog, writing and mailing Christmas cards, searching out gifts that I hope will be just right. I love and cherish each of these traditions.
But (and there is a but) these traditions and practices take time and if I am not careful, I let them take over. I feel anxious about finding the perfect gift, sending all the cards out in time, ensuring I have enough cookies to give all my neighbors, and wanting my home to look just right. Instead of making time and space in my life to welcome Christ’s love and presence, I fill my time, I fill my home, I fill my thoughts, leaving no space empty. Frantically trying to get everything done, I forget the one thing that is most important -– listening for God’s presence in my heart, in my life and in this world.
This year, a personal loss has brought me up short, and other things have fallen away. My husband and I, after two weeks of excitement, joy and anticipation, had a miscarriage. Just shy of seven weeks pregnant, I had known about the pregnancy for two weeks, and now, already, it was ending.
I have found that Advent is a wonderful time to be pregnant and a terrible time to have a miscarriage –- all the talk of conception, pregnancy, anticipation and birth serve as constant reminders of this so-intimate loss. Being a pastor further complicates things, for I have a particular role in sharing words about conception and birth, speaking messages of hope and anticipation, proclaiming the joy and delight of the good news of Jesus’ birth. Loss is always painful, and this loss has been particularly painful for me this Advent season.
And yet, in this loss I have received such a great gift –- in grief, I have had to step back from my to-do lists and make space. I have had to make space for sadness and mourning, for unanticipated doctor’s appointments, for difficult phone calls with family and friends, for physical discomfort and fatigue, for ritual and for tears. And in that space, God has crept in, sometimes slowly and quietly speaking to me through the images of God’s wonderful and majestic creation that decorate the lab where I had blood work done. In the space that grief has opened, I have found God already waiting in the steadfastness of my husband’s patient love and care. In this space, God is present and known through all the love and support that my husband and I have received –- text messages, unexpected phone calls, bouquets of flowers, prayers for comfort and healing, rituals of water, light and oil, gifts large and small.
The truth is that God has always been there, waiting for me to make room, for me to listen, for me to say, “Here I am.” God didn’t give me a miscarriage to force me to slow down or make space. I don’t believe that God had anything to do with my miscarriage. Never-the-less, the miscarriage happened and in the midst of this loss, I have experienced God’s abiding presence and love.
A few days before Christmas, driving to work and listening to Colorado Public Radio, I heard Clare Dunn singing “O Holy Night,” one of my favorite Christmas carols. I sang the first verse out loud and clear, for I know it well:
O holy night, the stars are brightly shining,
It is the night of our dear Savior’s birth;
Long lay the world in sin and error pining,
‘Til he appeared and the soul felt its worth.
A thrill of hope the weary world rejoices,
For yonder breaks a new and glorious morn.
As I listened, I realized that part of what has happened this Advent, part of what has happened in this space that grief has opened is that my soul has been reminded of its worth. Driving south along the Front Range, I imagined what our world would be like if each of us knew more deeply our own value and worth. I was reminded that our value and worth exist whether we rejoice or mourn, for God is present with us, loving us beyond our wildest imagining all the time.
Then came the second verse, less familiar, and I simply listened:
Truly He taught us to love one another;
His law is Love and His gospel is Peace;
Chains shall He break, for the slave is our brother,
And in His name all oppression shall cease,
Sweet hymns of joy in grateful chorus raise we;
Let all within us praise His Holy name!
Fall on your knees, Oh hear the angel voices!
O night divine! O night when Christ was born.
O night divine, O night, O night divine.
When we make space, when we slow down enough to know God with us, our soul feels not only its own worth but the worth of all others around us. We learn to love one another, and when this happens, the world is transformed: our interrelatedness shall be known, chains shall be broken, and oppression shall cease.
This Christmas season, in grief and gratitude, I find myself falling on my knees in need of God’s mercy and comfort and also in total awe and reverence for the One who has been waiting for me to make space.
I hope and pray that in this New Year, your soul may know its worth, that whether in joy or sorrow, you may know God’s loving presence in your life and that together we may continue to work for the end of all oppression. Thanks be to God and may all within us praise God’s Holy name! Amen.