About two weeks ago I was playing with the idea of ordering “The Best Christmas Pageant Ever” on DVD. Four years in, I think we can call this an advent ritual around here: I start an email to my parents seeing if they can send me the VHS and before the third sentence I remember 1) the tape is completely shot and 2) it’s the future and we do not have a VHS player. Then I go back and forth for a couple days weighing whether the nostalgia is worth 14.99 and apparently, it never is.
As a child, I actually was not the biggest fan of this movie. I never liked anything that reminded me we were still in the 80′s or early 90′s (I stand by that.) What I did enjoy was one of the final scenes in the movie, when the family who has been roped in by mom to the stress of pulling off the pageant is alone in the sanctuary. It is quiet and everyone is breathing again. I always waited for this moment with my own family after the church’s Christmas Eve service when everyone would return home and he sanctuary was left dim and still. I always waited for the feeling of calm and the sound of nothing that preceded the crazy excitement of Christmas morning.
I still wait for that thin line between the old and the new and while I’m sure I won’t be giving it up any time soon, it has lessened my tolerance for everything that goes on around this season to an unhelpful degree. Yesterday I made the unfortunate mistake of going to Target. I didn’t need the craziness happening inside since the full parking lot was enough to send me into a clautrophobic attack. Partially collected, I went inside where I’m afraid I didn’t do much better. I had to call Sarah who basically listened to me breathe my way through each aisle. “Candy canes (deep breath.) Why wouldn’t they have regular peppermint candy canes?!?? WHY ARE THEY DOING THIS TO ME!!!!!!!!!!” On the drive back to work, scenes from Copy Cat ran through my mind. I would probably never leave my house again.
It sounds crazy but I was truly disturbed by my inability to rise to the minimum level of functioning necessary to get through this shopping trip. It felt crippling until after rehashing it for someone they commented “yeah! People are awful this time of year!” And as I thought back through what I saw, nothing stood out as awful. I saw busy and hurried, sure, but even in this I saw one guy offer another the last outdoor extension cord they had on the shelf. I saw a family of four patiently waiting for the youngest who was slowly pushing her own town shopping cart through the store. I saw someone apologize to a salesperson for being “so damn impatient.” I saw the family again, gently coaxing the littlest one to pick up the pace. And I saw the calmest mother ever at the checkout with a three year old in a complete tantrum.
In the depths of my frustration with Christmas commercialism, consumerism, and the many places where I feel like such a bad match for this world, I easily forget that we are all trying our best to do some good. This effort may take us to a quiet sanctuary on Christmas Eve or the mall three days before Christmas or maybe to bed for some rest before continuing on. If this isn’t a definition of sacred space, where we are mustering everything in us to do something outside our selves, then I don’t know what is.
Peace doesn’t wait for the most opportune time to enter these spaces. Love doesn’t come down when everyone is on their best behavior. “All is calm, all is bright” is not a command. It’s a truth about our core, one that can even be seen in the most chaotic times if we’re willing to take a look around. Even in my beloved The Best Christmas Pageant Ever scene, the true calm happens when a little crazy erupts (in the form of a Marvel Comic angel and a Wise Man bearing ham) and those watching having enough room to respond to the unexpected in joy.
My rough draft hope for you is that you get your quiet sanctuary moments, where ever they may happen, that nothing even slightly uncomfortable befalls you between now and the New Year. Here’s the more finished version: That in whatever you encounter, there is even a square inch of space for a joy that can shake awake the calm at your core.