The Sears’ catalog was already marked and dog-eared by the time it got to the youngest child. With a sheet of notebook paper I would make my list for Santa, carefully offering page and item number along with a brief description. I was unusually attentive to the task. No need for Santa to blow the one shot a year he had to make Christmas special for me because of poor penmanship or insufficient information. I’m not sure what I did with those lists or how I thought Santa would get them. I recall putting one in an envelope and using a red crayon to write “Santa Claus” and on the next line, “North Pole.”
Christmas was louder in those days. It didn’t take long to figure out which knob in the polished maple stereo cabinet would increase the volume of our Christmas albums. The Christmas parade in our town included fire engines, and often the driver would sound the siren if you cheered loud enough. I recall the noise of the Salvation Army bell banging away as my dad and I walked on Main Street. The sidewalks were not very wide. I was a little boy swimming in a sea of kneecaps and boots; my dad’s hand was a lifeline. Unlike the brightly lit, temperature-controlled shopping malls of today, it was a cold night as we moved from shop to shop, looking for the perfect gifts. That was part of the joy of it. The cold, the dark, keeping up with my father’s long strides and entering stores that were warm and well-lit where he seemed to know everyone was all part of the joy of Christmas. All those memories are special to me, even as I have found that life as an adult requires different pursuits to discover a Christmas that has meaning and joy.
Tonight at Floris UMC we will enjoy our first service of Christmas at 7:30 p.m. Darkness to Light is a more subdued space than the services we offer on December 23 and 24. The lighting is dimmed, and the noise is soft. There will be no brass section to accompany the carols, no wiggly children’s choir full of anticipation or large crowd to pack the sanctuary. Often those who come are people looking for a holy space that is also a still space, or people for whom Christmas feels awkward this year because of a death of a loved one or a difficult or tragic circumstance they have endured. At this service we sing familiar songs of Christmas, but we also find comfort in silence. The reading of scripture is clear and distinct, and prayer is a space of refuge. We don’t need lots of light overhead. The candles before us are just enough.
Don’t get me wrong, I love the other services and even the commotion that comes with them. Few things bring me more gladness of heart than singing, “Joy to the World” in a full sanctuary. But I find this service to be meaningful because of its simplicity. In that space I am able to take the hand of God in the way a slightly overwhelmed child reaches out for a parent’s hand on a hectic and crowed street. It is in embracing that hand, and hearing that light shines in the darkness, that I find the peace of Christ that brings calm in the midst of all the noise, anxiety and worry of keeping up with this life.