On the eve

January 17, 2012

Off to a good start, with the cleaning in preparation for Kathleen’s family’s descent upon us this afternoon, accompanied by the lessons and carols from King’s College on the radio.

Kathleen and J.P. are finishing up the tapas for late afternoon and the Ukrainian holy supper afterward (mushroom soup, sauerkraut and barley, four or five species of pierogi). Alice is on her way over, and I have the wine chilling.

Kathleen, of course, is obligated later for the Christmas pageant at Trinity, Towson, and in gratitude for my absence from all such involvements I will later pour myself a second glass of wine.

Then, after dining, the wrangling over whether to open the gifts tonight or tomorrow. Shortly afterward I will be off to Memorial, Bolton Hill, for the music of brass and organ, the old texts brought to voice again, the nave and chancel swirling with incense (my contribution).

Christmas dinner tomorrow with Kathleen’s family in Lancaster.

This is the sort of kinder, kueche, kirche Christmas we go in for every year, and sometimes the preoccupation with all the preparations and responsibilities, along with the need to step delicately through the family minefield, gets in the way of looking outward to wider things.

I am vaguely aware that there are out there fellow Christians who feel themselves embattled in a secular, multicultural society and have taken on a sour, defensive attitude. Really, though, to perceive a shop clerk’s “Happy holidays” as a hostile act suggests a twisted sensibility.

Earlier this week, the photo of two sailors, both women, exchanging a homecoming kiss at Norfolk provoked some angry reactions from readers, many of whom I suspect are fellow Christians. To compare an affectionate kiss between two adults in love with bestiality (I am not making this up) is so cramped and bitter a view in the world that I am reminded why we have prayers for the relief of hardness of heart.

Christmas ought to prompt more generosity of spirit—if you believe that God became incarnate to share in the full experience of humanity, then you might be a little more forgiving of humanity yourself, opening yourself to a less narrow sympathy with your fellows.

It is, or should be, a season of reconciliation. If we can reconcile with the cantankerous personalities of family, friends, and colleagues for this season, then we can perhaps look beyond those circles. Even to those people we find difficult.

Richard Wilbur’s splendid Christmas poem, which the Episcopal Church has incorporated into the hymnal, ends with that generosity of spirit and the divine example of willingness to be reconciled, all with all:

“But now, as at the ending, / The low is lifted high; / The stars shall bend their voices, / And every stone shall cry. / And every stone shall cry / In praises for the child / By whose descent among us / The worlds are reconciled.”

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