Father Hank used to say that the first time we tried something new in the church it was a precedent, the second time it became a custom and the third time it was a TRADITION. Tradition flew out of the window for me on Christmas Eve and it was joyful. Claude and I did worship at Emmanuel Parish in Southern Pines, but we did not go to the midnight mass. We went at 6:30 without the senior choir but with bells and children’s voices ~ angel voices, still it was not the same. Claude had cleaned every pine needle off the driveway and the yard, no small feat for an 86 year old with back trouble. This must have “done the old boy in” for his back went into spasms during the service. As soon as he took Communion he left for home and I left for Sanford, up the road a piece to assist at the 10 o’clock service at St. Thomas’ Church. Driving up Route One I realized that I was hungry having had nothing but a few M&Ms since a lovely Christmas Eve Day Brunch with friends. The garish glow of the Golden Arches caught my attention. Imagine eating Christmas Eve dinner at McDonald’s. Tradition at my house for years has been oyster stew and cornbread. Sometimes with a Brandy Alexander thrown in for extra calories! I was about to break with tradition. I was the only inside customer; there were a few drive-ups and when they asked if it was “to go or for here,” I said, “here, please.” I had a Happy Meal ~ small cheeseburger (hold the onions), small fries and small diet coke. It was quiet and peaceful sitting there looking at the childrens’s art taped to the windows ~ mostly pictures of candy canes, doll babies, trucks and choo-choo trains. I thought of our dear children in Tanzania and wondered what pictures they would have drawn ~ a soccer ball made of rags, a scooter cobbled together with a makeshift front wheel, no back wheel, or maybe a seesaw made with a stick between a Y in a tree.

All of the help at McDonalds were Hispanics and they busied themselves cleaning the tables and the floors hoping to close at 10:00. All looked weary. My fries were hot, fresh out of the oil (Vit. O) and my thin little cheeseburger hit the spot. I’ve never just handed out a $20.00 bill, well yes I did one Christmas Eve to the old black man who sold newspapers across from the post office but it’s not something I do regularly.  I took out a $20 bill and handed it to one of the women scrubbing the floor and said “Merry Christmas.” Her reaction was worth every gift under our tree. A huge smile brightened her face and she said for me to please tell the manager that I had given it to her so he wouldn’t think she had filched it from the cash drawer. I wished for more money to give away. It felt good to do a random act of kindness to one I will never see again. Maybe she thinks I was Santa Claus in a clerical collar and a red jacket. I got in my sleigh, oops car and drove on to St. Thomas’. Since I was the first there I sat in the car and looked at the sweet and tidy 1930’s bungalows, all displaying twinkling lights behind lacey curtains. They were symbolic for me ~ light in the darkness. I hoped they thought of the baby Jesus coming in the bleak mid-winter amid the warmth of animals in a cave. (It was cold sitting in the car even with the heat on).

And then the service ~ my favorite service in the churches’ year. It is magical and wondrous.

St. Thomas is a beautiful old church, built in 1889. It’s small with elegant stained glass windows and a magnificent reredos. Candles burned in the windows and the altar was a mass of scarlet poinsettias. The processional cross was adorned with greens; the rector’s daughter sang Panis Angelicus with a soaring high soprano that gave me duck bumps. Craig Lister, the priest and I followed the choir singing “O Come, All Ye Faithful, joyful and triumphant.” My location had changed but not my tradition of going up to the altar singing with a lump in my throat: “who would not love thee, loving us so dearly?” To read the Gospel from Luke was a loving privilege, but the humblenss and loveliness of the rector’s homily deserves a blog entry of its own. This was a homily I will not forget and that will come to you dear blog readers in a bit. In the meantime I must do ordinary things like change the beds for the coming of our children.
O Come Let us Adore Him, Christ, the Lord.

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