Christmas Between Alarms

The week of Christmas 2018 began with EMTs at the church and ended with firemen at the parsonage.

Don’t worry. Everyone is okay. All buildings and people are intact. The only injured party was an old oven.

Two days before Christmas, during one of our worship services, we had a medical emergency. Nurses sprung into action, 911 was called, and EMTs quickly arrived. Thankfully the individual had only fainted, but those few minutes of uncertainty felt like eternity.

Four days after Christmas, I decided my oven needed a good cleaning. I turned on the “self cleaning feature” and settled onto a bar stool to watch TV in the kitchen. A few minutes into an episode of The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel, I heard a pop. My eyes shot to the oven, whose window was full of an orange flame. Thankfully the oven door had locked, and by the time the fire department arrived, the flame went out on its own with no damage to the rest of the kitchen.

I did not request a holiday bookended by emergency services for Christmas, and I would not like a repeat performance on Easter! At the same time, I look back on that week with a lot of gratitude for lessons learned. Even though the week began and ended with emergencies, I was able to celebrate Christmas between alarms. Christmas Day was quiet and peaceful. I rested and spent time with family, and because my dad was here to walk Isaac the dog, I didn’t even have to leave the house. I was able to watch Call the Midwife: Christmas Special and enjoy a meal I didn’t have to cook. Christmas was a calm in the middle of two storms snuffed out before they gained power.

So often, emergencies turn time into a blur. We are so caught in the moment of panic and the rush of adrenaline that when the calm returns we forget that Bethlehem’s babe was in the middle of it all. Difficult experiences are opportunities for new birth in us.

For the grace of God has appeared, bringing salvation to all, training us to renounce impiety and worldly passions, and in the present age to live lives that are self-controlled, upright, and godly,
— Titus 2:11-12 (New Revised Standard Version)

Year after year on Christmas Eve, included in the lectionary is a reading from the blink-and-you-miss-it letter to Titus. I’ve never preached on Titus on Christmas Eve, but Christmas of 2018 was a manifestation of Titus’ words. God’s grace appeared in worship as we prayed, and our fellow member was healed. Salvation was brought to a kitchen (although let’s do take a moment of remembrance for the deceased oven). All of life’s experiences are part of God’s training us to live as the body of Christ: self-controlled, upright, and godly. Even emergencies, and deliverance in the midst of them, are opportunities for training, for growth, for love.

As we ease into 2019 with hopes and dreams, let us remember Christmas between alarms. Let’s not lose the wonder of Bethlehem and all the ways God wants to be born again throughout the year.

In the meantime, if your week begins and ends with 911 calls, may I offer some practical advice?

  1. Yelling “FIRE!” at a dog does not encourage him to jump off the sofa and run outside to get in the safe car. It only makes him turn over for a belly rub. Yelling “CAT!” would be far more effective.

  2. First UMC of West Point now has a wheelchair in the east narthex if you need easy access to one. A bonus is that if you’re really tired after climbing the stairs into said narthex, you can sit in it and roll yourself into the sanctuary.

  3. Watch The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel and Call the Midwife. They are oh-so-good.

all good things, and Happy New Year, to each of you,

Pastor Darian