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There’s No Place Like Home


Home—is where I want to be

But I guess I’m already there

I come home—she lifted up her wings

I guess that this must be the place

—David Byrne, “Naďve Melody”


I have been on sabbatical, which is a really great way to spend your time. I didn’t leave the area, but in a very real way I voyaged far from my usual life. I slept late, cooked a lot and lost a lot of chess games to my daughter. By far the most important part of the sabbatical were the hours of each day spent entirely alone in a sunlit room with only my laptop to keep me company. Short of the sheer pleasures of the flesh, nothing has ever felt so good.

So when I told people I had planned to go back to work right before Christmas they were astonished. Why hadn’t I ended my sabbatical after the new year? Why would a minister want to return to the parish during one of the busiest times of the year?

The answer is simple—I want to be home for Christmas.

I couldn’t imagine Christmas without the people of Grace Lutheran Church. Oh, it was great to take a break from people—I’m probably a genuinely latent hermit—but when I think of how I want to spend Christmas Eve, I know that this is what I want:

JoAnn will bring the chocolate mousse in elegant dessert glasses. She tries different recipes different years. But she always puts raspberries atop the chocolate. She knows of my unreasonable love of raspberries. If I were Buddhist I’d have to practice detachment. If I were Roman Catholic I might have to give them up for Lent. If I were Muslim I wouldn’t even be getting ready to lead worship on Christmas Eve, so it’s a moot point.

We have put up the trees, one on each side of the altar. We are not stingy with our evergreens. We have decorated the sanctuary with so many candles that Jack, the fireman, must have long ago gotten a special dispensation from the fire marshal. Shawn puts the lights on the trees and Ron has followed his personal tradition of hiding a little blue light bulb somewhere among all of the branches. Ellen unpacks the ornaments and the little kids bounce up and down around her, wanting to help hang them. Mike has vacuumed up the carpet of fallen pine needles.

We have had our annual Swedish smorgasbord with the traditional St. Lucy procession—Mary has dressed all the young girls in white robes with red ribbons at their waists. They walk slowly, carefully holding candles whose soft glow both shadows and lights their faces. And then, as Cynthia or Rachel sings “Santa Lucia,” comes St. Lucy herself, the oldest girl, wearing a crown of flames.

We have had the annual children’s Christmas play which the kids write and direct—Paul or Madeleine or Chelsea or Emma or Dan—good writers, all of them. All the usual suspects are there—Mary and Joseph, the donkey and the baby, the angels, the shepherds, the wise men and the animals, but the play itself is a comedy. Think Spamalot Goes To Bethlehem. Last year the angel Gabriel wore blue sunglasses. Dude.

We have sent plates of cookies home to shut-ins, sung carols, had a run of parties. We like parties.

Soon it will be Christmas Eve and I will come over to the church alone in the early darkness where the silence is almost as palpable as velvet.

Soon the choir members and their families will arrive to rehearse their anthems. Then more and more people will keep trickling in until the church is nearly full—not like most Sundays. Out-of-town relatives, family and friends and the C-and-E-ers (people whose religion only permits them to come to church on Christmas Eve and Easter) swell the ranks. The sanctuary is noisy, people are excited.

It will be hectic in my office. People will pop in and out with questions about the service or to leave off plates of cookies, tins of nuts, bottles of wine, cards. JoAnn will bring the mousse and we will sample some, taking care not to get chocolate on our white robes.

Finally, we will be ready. The choir and the worship leaders will gather at the entrance to the church. Shawn will finish playing a masterly prelude.

Then everybody will rise and we will begin.

We are celebrating another Christmas, one out of the finite number we will be alive to see. I look out at the congregation. For some there may only be a handful of Christmases left to them. For others there are scores and scores of Christmases still to come.

And each year we make the same ritual pilgrimage to this sanctuary full of green branches and glowing lights. Each year we sing the same carols that promise the ineffable and abiding presence of God. We sing about a baby who was born to die, as we have each been born and will, unfailingly, die. In a way, that is the whole event: that this baby some boldly call God has begun the same journey toward death as we are on.

But tonight, now, we are here and nowhere else. We have left our houses and brought our families and our friends so that, gathered together for an hour or two, we will find in each other what it means to come home.

—Jo Page

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