From the Pastor – Winter 2022

This Christmas will be a new experience for me.

For 65 years, I have taken part in the joy and wonder of that day. While the first couple of times clearly involved my being physically present without any understanding of what was going on, I soon began to appreciate the sights and rhythm of the season. Over time, there was a growing sense for me of the meaning behind it all, too, as an active participant in the worship and wrapping, shopping and secret-keeping. Since 1987, I have preached at one or more Christmas Eve services where I sought to bring a word about the events at Bethlehem to a present-day assembly. Most of those aspects of Christmas will occur again this month, yet the 2022 observance will be unique for me as it will be the first one since my mother’s death.

As some of you recall, Mom breathed her last in May. There was a wonderful gathering two months later where sixty family members joined with others in celebrating her 91 years on this earth. Still, while the death certificate shows 2022 as the year of her passing, Mom’s significant memory loss beginning during the pandemic meant that in some ways she departed from us sooner. Her sweet and lively spirit was present until the end, but it was doubtful she knew who I was for the last 24 months of her life. I spoke to her last year on the day itself and made a trip the next week with our daughter to introduce Mom to her newest grandson, but the mother I had known for the previous Christmases was mostly gone. I’m guessing that those of you who have faced dementia in loved ones know what I mean. I suspect, too, that the reality of her absence will hit me in some way over the coming weeks. Still, as I write these words, my primary response is one of a smile as there was no time of the year that ever came close to matching her excitement over, preparation for, and celebration of a day than Christmas.

I have tree ornaments that she made first for me and then for my family over the years. The ones from my single days are painted wood cutouts that depict the Holy Family or a snow-covered church. After our children were born, she made them an ornament consisting of a cube covered with cross-stich with its own code on the four side panels. One had the first letter of the child’s name, another showed their birth order of the fourteen grandchildren, another had their age (including a fraction if less than a year) and then the first, second, or third letter of the word “joy” depending on where they were in the series. Mom must have kept meticulous records.

Gift-giving was always of great importance to her. During our growing-up years there were wonderful presents for each one of us, neatly wrapped and adorned with a ribbon or bow. After the five of us had left home, she gave themed gifts where each would receive the same item. One year, it was a travel bag with our monogram on it; another year it was a dopp kit personalized in the same way. Mom was so enthusiastic about unwrapping gifts that even in his later years when my step-father lost interest in shopping, she would purchase her own Christmas gifts, wrap them and place them under the tree with a tag reading “To Pat, From Ralph.”  

Those memories don’t even include her extensive decorating of the house, the wood cutouts of five carolers and a dog meant to represent our childhood family that were placed in the front of our home with a spotlight on them, or the baking, cooking, and homemade candies. Given all of that activity, it’s no surprise Mom would often say in January “I’m a little blue it’s all over.” Soon, though, she would be planning, shopping, and crafting for the next Christmas.           

As you gather to celebrate the birth of a baby in Bethlehem, I hope there will be moments when you stop to recall your best memories of those who are at rest, too, with the One who grew up to be the Savior. After all, as the carol reminds us “Christ was born to save! Christ was born to save!” Which is why, even this year, I can say “Merry Christmas, Mom!”