Are you coming for Christmas Eve? You'll miss the codfish balls!
When are you coming for Christmas day? Not til after noon? That's so late! The kids want to open their presents!
What are you so stressed out about? You work for the church, you knew about this stuff.
Last year was the worst- it was the first time I'd lived near my family since starting the ministry, and I tried to do everything and just about killed myself. This year, the best aunt let me know she'd think of me and the door was open if I could get there, but no pressure. (The Day's rock!) My brother finally figured out that Christmas is NOT the day to ask me to cook anything. Bring wine. That's it. (He knows I probably have a bottle or two on hand.) I think my parents are still trying to remember my working hours. It seems like they are round the clock right about now. M just keeps a picture of me on his desk at work, so he remembers what I look like. "Oh, yeah, the wife, she's that dark haired chick..." My cats, on the other hand, are unrepentant, needy mewlers who cry when I won't pick them up. "Why don't you love us anymore? What have we done wrong? Here, let us give you our toys and you will love us again! I'll put it in your shoe for you so you will be sure to find it!" It's really not personal, guys, but I swear, if I find one more catnip mouse in my slippers...
Finally, this morning, I canceled my hospital hours so I could put the final touches on tonight's services (plural!), do the emergency laundry as I couldn't do laundry during the snowstorm (the laundry rooms were the last to be shoveled), wrap the presents, and perhaps do some of the cooking (we are literally down to cans of beans and tomatoes and crackers- we have a TON of ingredients, but I haven't even had time to cook!).
M looks seriously at me over breakfast and totals up in his mind all the extra services, extra office hours, extra visits, extra writing and notes, and I remind him about the extra cleaning due to the sloppiness of the snow. And he says, "Oh, so it's sort of like Easter, just not exactly..."
Ah, yes, pretty much. Christmas is one of the TWO BIG DEAL services for clergy. We joke about the "C&E Club Christians", but we all know that we are putting on a show for the twice-a-year crowd. There are people who are mourning the loss of relationships or loved ones at this time of year, when the mass media spends its energy telling us all how happy we should be with our perfect lives. There's a lot of emotional need- grief, joy, hope, despair, that just rockets around God's people at this time of year.
For the clergy person, we're sort of caught in the middle of this perfect storm. While trying to keep our own family life going, we're also trying to be present and pastoral for the many in our parishes who we might only see tonight. For these two days, there's a lot about the parish that just has to come first.
We clergy try really hard to balance our lives- family, work, self. So on the days like this when the parish, by necessity, just swells up and overwhelms us, give us the gift of understanding when we seem to retreat from normal life. We're on the front lines of celebrating the gift of God becoming incarnate in human form. It's a little overwhelming.
I'll see you in church tonight. Peace on earth to all people, and peace in the highest heaven. May it seep throughout the rest of this season.
Merry Christmas. And to my clergy friends, hang in there!