A week of finals and a semester are over. One dining hall remains open for those students who have yet to leave campus for winter break. Several inches of snow lay on the ground outside and students relax as they eat dinner together among the holiday decorations around them.
There are plenty of parking places on the streets of campus and the nearby village of coffee houses, bars and fast food joints is rather empty for a Saturday night. As we drive across town to visit a friend in the hospital we move from the campus area through the historic downtown and into the older neighborhoods in town. It feels like we have moved back in time, to the Christmases depicted in the movies we enjoy at this time of year. Driving past some of the small houses with simple Christmas decorations and snow covering eaves and hanging from trees, you expect to see George Bailey briskly walking down the street followed by Clarence, the not-yet-winged angel. Or maybe you’ll catch a glimpse of a “fishnet-stocking-d,” one-legged lamp shining in a window! Having grown up in Los Angeles where it never quite snowed, this was what Christmas used to look like in my mind’s eye. Now I live here.
As we turn into the parking lot of the new, multi-storied hospital, it seems strangely calm and quiet. As we come into the large lobby and move toward the elevator, it is impossible to miss the sight of the tall, beautifully decorated Christmas trees. There are signs of the holidays everywhere in the halls and the waiting areas. It seems, in a way, an attempt to contrast what people there might be feeling as they are on their way to the room of a sick, and possibly dying loved one. I think to myself that maybe this is no place for such decorations. And yet, wouldn’t it be strange to not have them there? Christmas is a wonderful time of year—that is, until sadness, loss and disappointment move in. Then the contrast seems to make things even worse. I’ve had those Christmases, where my theme song becomes, “I wish I had a river to skate away on;” Christmases where it took everything I had to keep from announcing to everyone, “That’s it! We are putting away all the decorations right now!” It’s just not fair to have these things break into the joy of Christmas! And so as I walk past the rooms of people spending this time in the hospital I remember the feelings of occasional sadder Christmases of the past.
Conversation in the car with my husband lightens the mood as we head back across town to our own neighborhood. As we drive up to our house, all wrapped in snow, with the warmth of the Christmas decorations shining through the front picture window I am happy to be home. It has been a fast-paced, busy day… and semester. It is nice to enjoy a change of pace, times with family and friends, eating, sharing gifts, messages and songs of Advent and Christmas at church and more relaxed times together. But I know that not everything is perfect. Even in this house there are moments of anxious and sad feelings, wonderings about how things are and how they will be, times of disappointment and doubt. But for a moment of quiet, I sit enjoying the warmth of the season, a moment of stillness, where I am not in the past or the future, not in a holiday movie or in a dream of what Christmas is supposed to be like, just right here, right now.
And in that moment, I remember once again, that Christmas is a celebration of something deep, something that transcends the good times of holidays as well as the sadness and disappointment that, when present at this time of year, are magnified by the contrast. Once again I am aware of a God that has broken into our life and world, just as it is--a God that is present in joy and in sorrow… the One who brings peace that passes all understanding.
And so are some of my random thoughts this Christmas season.