mixing oil and water at christmas

All shall be well, and all shall be well and all manner of thing shall be well.  ― Julian of Norwich

It’s a serious thing, just to be alive on this fresh morning in the broken world. — Mary Oliver

Wilderness and desert will sing joyously, the badlands will celebrate and flower, like the crocus in spring, bursting into blossom. — Isaiah 35: 1

Christmas at the McDermott’s was at my mother’s house every year I can remember as a teenager — and later as an adult. Grandmother’s lipstick kisses on the cheeks when I was younger, and uncles with vice grip handshakes. The conversations that devolve into debates, as well as the wonderful family stories we’d forgotten.

Hunters and the animal rights activists. Liberals and conservatives, evangelicals, and “the ones being prayed for.” Hipsters, business execs, doctors, ministers, a physicist, and always a few newbies to the family circus (“Tommy, these are your step-cousins thrice removed on your ex-stepmom’s side -they’re in town for the holiday!”). There’s my nephew, the current “High Lord for the North Texas Region of the SCA” with his queen and squire children. I’m always impressed with the variety of medieval weapons in the trunk of his car!

And there are vacancies in the crowd, as in our days this time of year — odd vacuous moments and spaces where an uncle used to fill the room with his boisterous voice, or a daughter with her sweet singing, or a spouse now an “Ex.” Death, divorce, dis-ease . . . It’s also present every year for so many of us.

It just doesn’t seem like it will work — the holidays . . . and joy.

Turkey and spaghetti. Music and mayhem. Wine and beer. Silence and laughter. Oil and water — sometimes it all barely holds together . . . But it always does.

When we enter these moments as reverently as we do with anticipation or anxiety, reverence and curiosity seem to always provide a path to joy and the understanding that all will be well.

I’m reminded of my Grandfather’s dark oak, roll-top desk in his office at home. As a kid, that’s the first place I ran to once past the chaotic Christmas greetings at the front door.

My grandmother always warned, “You can check out the top drawers but don’t go in the bottom ones.” I’d open the small top drawers, one of which always held the gold pocket watch the BNSF Railway Company gave him in appreciation for all the medical care he gave rail workers in his practice. I still have that watch.

Then, of course, I opened the bottom drawer, which Mimi knew I would do, because she placed kids’ storybooks there. One of my favorites was a story called “The Mitten,” was about a little boy who loses a mitten in the snow, and forest animals try to make room so they can all fit inside, and one by one they stretch its boundaries beyond belief.

The Christmas Story always brings to mind that awkward stable, “because there was no room in the inn.” All those curious folks, none of whom should “technically” (nor typically) have been there — together. The reality of oppression and death and fear must surely have also been present.

We tend to view Nativity scenes, and this time of year, with such sentimentalism that we miss the irony and awkwardness (even the subversive reality) of the moment. As odd as the setting is, it’s somehow the way of joy and hope for the world.

And maybe it’s because angels informed them all ahead of time, “Go see this strange thing. It’s holy! It’s God with us!”

Maybe that simple encouragement, that reminder, was all the mixed crowd needed to realize — to see — that joy was right there in their midst. It’s the way life is. It’s a way of saying with singer Peter Mayer, “It used to be a world half there, with second rate hand-me-downs. Now I walk with a reverent air; because everything is holy now.”

So, making room for this vision in our lives may be the key to finding joy in the midst of the odd assortment and clash of people whose lives we encounter daily, and at Christmas.

Finding joy in the kitschy decorations this time of year, the overly predictable plot lines of every Hallmark movie, the ugly sweater parties as well as in handing out a coat at our First Street mission, or serving a cup of coffee at the Sunday community breakfast or in so many ways, touching another person’s life with delight.

This Sunday, December 15, at eleven:eleven, downtown, we’ve planned an especially joyful and inspiring Sunday of music, storytelling, and celebration. We’ll have hot cider and coffee as well as some pastries on hand.

And we’ll all experience the inspiration and wonder of Minnesota singer-songwriter, Peter Mayer, as we make our way to the joy and hope of Christmas during these longest nights of the year.

I hope you can join in as we open our doors to that great mystery of joy in our midst.


Rev. Tom McDermott
Associate Pastor of eleven:eleven

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