Christmas Eve morning and all is, indeed, calm.
There was a light on in the hall when I came downstairs that I am 99% sure was not on when I went to bed last night. It’s a very bright light and I remember taking stock of the darkness when I went up the stairs to read and sleep. The kids are with their dads, as is the custom in our family on Christmas Eve and so no child came in late and left a light on.
I take it as a lovely sign. Of what, I’m not entirely sure, but I have made my tea and given Daisy the ultimate old Coonhound gift this morning: a warmed blanket for her last hour or so of bed snuggle, so let me take a stab at this …
I told the pinecone story in church yesterday morning. Of the wee one who interrupted my personal tree-getting/holiday over-thinking/over-doing/misdirected energy by reaching into her pocket one morning, extending her hand to me and unfurling her fingers to reveal a perfect tiny pinecone. “Treasure,” was all she said.
Treasure, indeed. I told the story because the birth of a person named Jesus should hold a similar place in our hearts, as treasure in a world gone mad on so many levels.
You can either discount the story of the birth of Jesus as a bunch of hokum; a wayward Grimm’s Fairy Tale, or you can take a closer look, mull it over, see how precious it is and believe it to be treasure. There may be a million gajillion other babies or pinecones on the planet, but if we deem this one special then it most certainly becomes important to us.
It could be true that this pinecone, like snowflakes, has a structure unlike any other. Perhaps if we investigated further we would discover subtle nuances, differences in curvature. Maybe it has a slightly different scent than other pinecones. Pinecones are probably a lot like humans: no two alike (minus all the emotional trauma and drama, those lucky little seedlings.)
Treasure. A kid would know.
As for Jesus, was he a savior, the manifestation of God in this world? I don’t know; I wasn’t there, but there are many recorded accounts of the things he did when he grew up that indicate that he was someone very special, not your average human.
He spent his days of ministry in direct contact with those in the world who needed him most: the sick, the lame, the hungry and homeless, women and children, the impoverished, the weary. He was a social activist long before it became cool, before it was about looking good on social media. He was all action, very little talk, and I’d give anything to see more of that these days.
He lived his life in service to those who needed his help, no questions asked, no pretending they weren’t there, no passing them by assuming someone else would clean up the mess. That’s enough for me; there have been so few role models in this department over the years. I’ll take the Jesus story if only as a reminder of who and what we are truly supposed to be.
Later in the day, yesterday, Marion, my former mother-in-law and very good friend, called to tell me that when she got out of her car and was headed into her studio, after church, she looked down by the door and saw a little pinecone. “And there is no pine tree anywhere nearby,” she said, “no reason for there to be a pinecone right there.”
Number One, I was delighted that someone had listened to my sermon, and Number Two, I responded with “what a lovely sign.”
“Of what?”she asked.
“I think that some people are more tuned-in to the workings of the spirit world,” I told Marion. “You’re one of those people. Your heart was open and your eyes more aware. You live your life that way, and so someone or something sent you a playful little sign, a greeting, to remind you you are loved.”
Marion was satisfied with that explanation and so we ended our conversation with “see you tomorrow night.”
Four years ago on Christmas Eve there was tension among us because it was my first Christmas service as a pastor and I really wanted my kids there and their dad’s family, Marion’s family, does their big thing on Christmas Eve. There was a lot of back and forth, tempers flared a bit, some jostling for who or what was more important. The hour came and they had not arrived. The service began and still no McChesneys. And then I looked up and saw them, not just my boys, but all of them, walking into the sanctuary. They had suspended their celebration for the hour of church and come, all together, thirteen of them. I will never forget it as long as I live. It was a seminal moment in the history books of grace, forgiveness, love and everything, everything that this season is about. I floated three inches off the ground the entire service.
Since then my former parents-in-law and my former siblings-in-law have become regular church-goers and participants in our faith community and the entire family comes to our candlelight service every year on Christmas Eve, without question.
What does it mean? A light mysteriously turned on in the night? A pinecone where there should be none? A child reminding me of how beautiful and important the tiniest things in this world are? If I trolled the stories of the 364 days since last Christmas I’m sure I would find dozens of similar accounts, including people showing up just when I needed them, opportunities that presented just when I wasn’t sure where I was headed, rainbows and snow, like glitter, falling from the sky. Some things were lost this year, as per; some things came back and brand new, shiny things turned up, too. Endings and beginnings are woven into the plot.
A baby born in a barn is not unlike any other baby born anywhere else, in some ways. Just another baby, just another pinecone, just another bleary-eyed, middle-aged woman trying to remember if she turned that light off last night.
Or. Maybe. Not.
Merry Christmas dear friends and readers. May the magic of the season reach in and touch the very heart of your deepest and truest heart. Amen.