Church people talk about the distractions of the season, frequently, when speaking formally of Advent. "Jesus is the reason for the season!" says the letter-board in front of LoveLines, a phone counseling and prayer room in a tiny strip mall off Central Avenue. Yep, all news of Santa's present whereabouts to the contrary. (And I realize I'm posting this after the fact. Been avoiding the subject up til now, oh well, tra la.) Yes, the shopping and the school vacations and the many inches of snow to be shoveled and the Snow Emergency parking rules and the exchange of gifts at the office, the meals to plan and cards to send and tickets to be bought... all of this seems downright obligatory and leaves little room for dialogue about the birth of Christ. I could instruct my young son on the meaning of Christmas, or debate the Virgin Birth with a Presbyterian friend of mine; I could pray more, consider the meaning of loving sacrifice, consider repentance.
At the same time, the constant warnings against "distraction" grate on my nerves a tad. I'm a church professional, and while it's not all-Jesus All the Time around the office, we certainly don't forget why we're there most days. A pastor friend of mine was overheard saying, half-jokingly, "I'm getting sick of hearing about Jesus. I wish he'd just buzz off for a while." Another pastor remarked, "Christ the Savior is born. Now, let's all get some sleep." The work of getting people focused on Christ is ALL ABOUT distractions, millions of them, sermon writing down to the wire and the phone calls and emails pertaining to nothing so vast as the Christ but all with tremendous bureaucratic pull, "the tyranny of the urgent." We in the church office find ourselves thinking, most of the time, about "the show." Two services on Christmas Eve and another the following Sunday, the Music Director on vacation that Sunday, two bulletins to proof and print, a shipment of poinsettias for the altar, guest musicians, etc etc.
Christmas comes, and Christmas goes. In church-attendance terms, it's not as big a deal as Easter. According to the seasons of the church, we Christians are supposed to slow it down throughout Advent until we're ready for the final meditation of silent watchfulness on Christmas Eve, the candlelight services, the midnight Mass. "Joy to the World!" we sing, not on Christmas Day (since not many churches hold services that day relatively speaking), but the day after; the "First Sunday After Christmas." January is all "Sundays After Christmas," the recovery from Christmas, the drama of the flight to Egypt and the caloric hangover from the previous month's activities. Jesus grows up awfully fast over the next few weeks, and before you know it, he's twelve years old and hanging out with the profs in the Temple. And then, Bang! It's Lent. There go the swaddling cloths, here comes the Cross. By all means, let get it over with.
I'm taking a pay cut this year, we all are at the church, to help ride out what we hope is a temporary cash flow crunch. At the same time I've willingly taken on two new board appointments for the coming year, assuming other factors. My face is broken out from all the danged chocolate eating, I have the beginnings of a bladder infection and I've gained five pounds since the snow started. I find these truths to be Distracting.
My marriage is endlessly problematic, my anti-depressants only work if I remember to take them at EXACTLY the same time each day, and one of the cats keeps pooping on the basement floor. These too are Distractions.
When will the baby be born again? Did I miss it?