Wednesday, December 2, 2015

It's time to have "wonder-full holy days"

This is my column that was published in The Arab Tribune on Wednesday, December 2, 2015.

It starts.

Now that Thanksgiving has come and gone, the leftover turkey will find its way into the soup, the sandwiches, and the crevices in the floor. The company will go home, happy and well fed.

My father-in-law will treat us to a holiday dinner at a nice restaurant, like he always does. I'll take my annual opportunity to tease my wife about how cornbread dressing is so much better than oyster dressing (she's from Louisiana, she can't help it).

I will start gathering up some Fall decorations to put them away, and get around to a few chores that I was supposed to do before Thanksgiving. Okay, maybe I'll do the chores. It's time to find the tree and get the Christmas lights out.

It's the holidays! Gosh, they have already started. But just for a moment, I breathe.

There is something about that pregnant pause between Thanksgiving and when the Christmas parties and church activities start cranking up. I'm not into shopping on Black Friday, since shopping's not my thing. So maybe I'll wait until Cyber Monday. Or maybe I'll miss that, too, because I love this in-between space.

In my faith tradition, the first Sunday of Advent comes and we light the first candle. I know it's coming and my heart starts to anticipate the anticipation.

But for now, I pause. I stop. I reflect. Here come the holidays.

Every year, I recall that the word "holidays" comes from the fact that they are holy days. I don't get upset about the so-called war on Christmas, because I know that even saying "Happy Holidays" is a hidden, secret, subversive statement of faith. These times are holy, and I can feel it in my bones.

So I think this year, instead of jumping into all the things I need to do (or maybe just want to do), I'll pause to ponder what not to do.

I'll try not to eat too much. One plate at every party is fine, really (I think I can, I think I can, I think I can).

I'll try not to get too rushed. I will intentionally not attend everything I want to go to. My wife has been teaching me that it's really okay.

I'll try not to neglect my quiet time every day, because I crave the silence more than the sugar (okay, maybe not more than the sugar ... but I need it, and I know it).

I'll decide that one Christmas tree in my home is plenty (two last year was a bit much). Planning with our church's worship arts directors for a special service, celebrating the ornaments that represent Christ on our tree, reminds me that the simple act of placing one ornament on a branch is a life-giving expression of faith.

So I should savor the moment, not rush through it. This is the time, this in-between space, when I can decide to make the holidays holy.

Making them holy doesn't mean deciding they are boring or chant-like. It simply means that I am going to keep my antennas up so I can detect when God is present, ever-so vibrantly present, in the midst of them. And when I find God is present, I'll pause to pay attention.

It seems like very year, some little gesture, some humorous experience, or some serendipity will remind me of how human, how simple, and how profound these coming days are. Last year, it was when the donkey relieved himself on sweet Mary's dress at our Live Nativity. I laughed and I laughed.

This year? Who knows, but the holidays have a way of giving me a moment or two of reminders that it's all about the regular, the common, and the ordinary things made holy. It's about a manger, a smelly bunch of hay, a family really put out (literally) because of taxes, and a miracle in diapers that completely transformed the direction of the universe.

We call it the incarnation. That's a fancy word for the crazy way God showed up and moved into our neighborhood. What a strange way to save the world.

So have some wonderful holidays. They are meant to be exactly what the words say they are, "wonder-full holy days" indeed.

Steve West is a husband, father, minister, musician, and writer who pastors Arab First United Methodist Church. His blog, "Musings of a Musical Preacher," is found at