December 25

Christmas Day

 

“In this season of giving, we celebrate the birth of God’s only Son.”

You fidget uncomfortably in the wooden pew.  The priest has only been speaking for a few minutes, but it’s clear he’s just getting warmed up.

“But what is the true meaning of Christmas? There are several ways we can attempt to answer that question.  The first — ”

The sigh escapes your mouth before you have a chance to stifle it.   Two rows up, a family turns their heads in unison to locate the source of the disrespectful sound.  The priest pauses in his address, as if he’s heard it, too.

Your parents sit on either side of you.  Your mother, you know, is mortified.  Your father puts his hand on your knee and squeezes hard.

“First, we can consider the spiritual message of Christmas.  This is the most obvious meaning of this important day, but it can sometimes be the easiest to forget…”

You wonder how we could possibly forget. You’re only eleven years old, and you’ve heard the religious message each year, in the same words and phrases.  Your parents insist on attending church on Christmas morning, before the family gets to open presents.

“Next, we can consider Christmas as a community gathering.  I’m reminded of a story…”

You glance through the printed bulletin and see all the sections still remaining after the sermon. Three hymns, The Lord’s Prayer, three more hymns.  Communion.  The offering, the hymn of the offering, special prayers.  Three more hymns.

“Finally, the giving I mentioned at the start. The gifts we shop for all month, then exchange with each other. What would Christmas be without gifts?”  The priest stepped to the side of the podium, leaving his prepared words behind.  In your experience, this move usually meant the sermon was drawing to a close.  But during Christmas sermons, the move often signaled a lengthy, extended analogy.

You look at your watch and estimate at least ten more minutes to the sermon, thirty more for the remainder of the service.

“We’re all familiar with the cartoon monster who steals the presents and decorations from a small town.  In that story, the religious meaning, and the sense of community, all survive despite the loss of the gifts.  The gifts aren’t important: that’s the lesson of the little cartoon.”

He points down the aisle to the back of the church.  Two ushers move to the exit doors and stand before them with their arms crossed.

“Because honestly, “the priest says, “would it really be the end of the world if we never got to open our presents?”

The priest closes his eyes and lifts his head to the ceiling.  Outside, a thick cloud seems to pass over the sun.  Colorful light fades from stained glass windows, and the church grows dark except for candlelight.  A strange gust of wind whistles low through the church, extinguishing the candles.  The priest’s eyes glow red in the dark.

You wonder what you would have gotten this year.