Writer, editor, stumbler after Jesus

Christmas is hope in the ruins

ruins2I AM HAUNTED this Christmas not by one of Charles Dickens’ ghosts, but by a little boy I never knew. Though we did not meet, he made me laugh for many years, until recently I shed a tear instead.

It all goes back to one of those little stories that become part of your family’s fabric, fragments of other people’s lives that somehow get woven into your own.

When I was a kid, my grandmother would tell of the Christmas Day long ago when she was out and about, and passed a family walking the other way. As their paths crossed, one of the adults in the other party barked at a child in the group, “You do realize that you’ve just ruined Christmas!”

It was just one line from a longer scene, of course. She did not know what came before, or what followed after; what provocation there may have been, or what attempts at repair. The story was told with a chuckle at the absurdity of the weight of those words, way too much for someone so young to carry. They became something of a catchphrase in our family for exaggerated hurt.

But as that sentence came back to me recently, it did so not as dark humor but as deep heartache. I couldn’t help wondering about that little boy. What had he done, or not done, to prompt such a retort? And where is he this year? What sort of emotions swirl around him as he celebrates Christmas?

Some people talk about “thin places,” where the membrane between heaven and earth seems especially permeable, where the spiritual dimension feels particularly open; it doesn’t take much to break through that gossamer veil. My memory of the “ruined Christmas” story makes me aware that maybe there are “thin days,” too, when our hearts are more sensitive and vulnerable than others. When what we hear pierces deeper and sticks harder.

Christmas would be one, of course—so may we all speak ever so gently on December 25, aware that what we say might lodge more deeply than at any other time of the year. Other “thin days” may be more arbitrary—marking a marriage, a divorce, a birth, a death that we may not even know about. And so we should speak ever so gently on every day, not knowing what significance it has for our listeners. Making every day Christmas Day in this regard might change how we speak the rest of the year.

As I think of that young child, I hope that all his subsequent Christmases haven’t been ruined because he was pierced on a “thin day.” I hope he was forgiven for whatever he had done. I hope whoever spoke to him so harshly asked for forgiveness for what they said. I hope he discovered that, above everything, the whole message of Christmas is that whatever has been ruined can be renewed, redeemed, and restored, because of One who was pierced.

Merry Christmas, and speak kindly.

Photo credit: Walther Siksma via Foter.com/CC BY-NC-ND

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