From the Minister: In the Interim

I hope that you had the holiday you needed to have, but I am willing to bet that it was less than perfect. It may even have fallen far short of what you wanted. You may not have been given something you really hoped (and actively campaigned) for, or you may have been given gifts so bazaar that you wondered what the giver was thinking. More likely there was something (or maybe a lot) missing in the atmosphere of conviviality that surrounded you. Many people have told me they used to dread the fight that evolved in their family every year at this time.

We seem to yearn for perfection in December – or for an image of perfection – and of course we always fail to achieve it. We try so hard and the harder we try the more the perfect holiday eludes us. One year in Wellesley we succumbed to the perennial requests for more of this and less of that and altered the Christmas Eve service. The results were disappointing, and church leaders quietly suggested that we might not want to try that again. What I was unprepared for was the fury of those who attended our church only on Christmas Eve. They let us know through calls and letters that we had ruined their Christmas and (who knows) maybe their lives. We had fallen short of the perfection they had come to believe they needed on Christmas Eve.

Wanting and expecting the ideal outcomes will usually blind us to what is already in our lives that is good enough, even wonderful, if quirky and all too human. Many of us have had the experience of pushing past beautiful, breath-taking views to reach the summit of a mountain only to find it shrouded in clouds and rain. The trip is ruined not because it did not have wonderful things to offer, but because our attention was focused on the summit. Holidays – particularly those with family gatherings – are like that..

If you didn’t have the holiday you needed to have – and are now feeling slightly disappointed – take heart, because after Christmas there is the season of Epiphany. An epiphany is an experience that just happens to us. We can’t make it happen, and it does not depend on Christmas. It does not require family unity or a Christmas Eve service with every cherub perfectly in place. From time to time such a vision of hopefulness, an epiphany, comes into our lives. It is unbidden, unforced and usually unexpected. It may not change our lives, but it can stay with us through some tough times. It stays with us longer than any illusions we may have about achieving perfection.                                                                     –John Nichols