by Rev. John Howard Farmer
Season of Christmas
Many folks are exhausted from preparations for Christmas by the time we get to it. Houses are decorated to the max. Families all stretch to have the best Christmas every year until it is all folded away until another year.
I have tried to free my mind from the nostalgia of it all with no success. I must admit that Christmas present is forever flavored by Christmases past. Charles Dickens knew that. I find myself rejecting much of what is offered as new. I don’t want to be bothered by new. I need to massage my collection of Christmas memories previous.
Sure, some memories are bittersweet, but I keep telling others and myself that our first Christmas without whom-so-ever is not about what we’ve lost but how that person has enriched us. Just last Sunday we had grown-up “kids” meandering about our sanctuary to help the flock decorate our Chrismon Tree, an annual custom at Irvington. Many of us throttle back our home decorating as life changes around us. Several used-to-be boys and girls came as adults to the tree, with tears in their eyes. For some it was their very first time to be without a special loved one. I purposefully avoided eye contact. No need to spill tears just because the bucket was full. I hoped for them to savor just how special the church place was, how special the opportunity was and how much they were loved by the folks in that room.
I remember the late Pastor Clyde Lipscomb reading the Gospel of Luke to our 1950s boys Sunday School class. He was the good October guy who married my dad and step-mom Rosie on Aunt Beulah’s living room hearth. I remember how many good Christmases my Rosie fussed over me. Most of all, I rejoice in the privilege of having had her with us her last three years.
I remember my late mom Josephine. Oh, she had a sparkle about her one Christmas as she and my step-dad Norman awaited the birth of my little sister Jo. She was born on St. Patrick’s Day and by the next Christmas was all eyes, blond locks, fingers and toes. That same little bundle of joy later became mom’s caregiver.
I still see the Christmas finery on the ladies preparing for the pageants at Webber Memorial Baptist Church, Oak Grove.
I can still hear Brother Roy practicing his Christmas special beside the organ at McGuire Park Methodist Church.
I well remember the Christmases at Skinquarter Church and how blessed my family was to have sat under the ministry of the late Rev. Dr. Joel Rackley. He and his wife, Betty, were not just our ministerial family, they were our brother and sister. They added their kids to our pile of joy. Our departure from that community was intense. My dad, Robert, and stepmom, Rosie, were there, along with the congregation to wish us Godspeed on our journey toward seminary. It was not about the long road to Louisville, it was about how fortunate we were to have responded to God’s call.
Kentucky Christmases went into the family album for four and a half years.
Next that first Tennessee church, which allowed us to be near the late grand-Walker’s farm, was ever so nice. Truly those years were Courier & Ives memories.
Later we spiced the season with New England traditions. Ceremonies like the Hanging of the Greens wormed their way into my evangelical heart. Advent wreaths were added to my Christmas lore. Big choirs, with professional singers, teased my memory’s long-playing Gene Autry records. My ear expanded to the collection. What a joy — all those new sounds.
A detour allowed our return to the far margins of west Tennessee to await our trip east. East has always been a holy destination.
The road east finally brought me home. Christmas of 1986 was my first at Goodwin Hall, my first as pastor of Irvington Church. Every year that anniversary gains popularity with me. In that house I celebrated my first year without my in-laws, without my stepdad, without my dad, without a wife. Yet I did not despair; God has always been in the restoration business.
Remember, Christmas is not about how sad loss is, rather how enriched we are.
Wonderfully, this is my 17th Christmas with Hazel and her two children added to my original duo. Hazel brought me to another abode. It is my 30th year as pastor, with a son, Robert Lee, also in the ministry here. Our youngest son, Robert E., recently moved back home, awakening all kinds of joy for us. Our neighbor-nurse Jennifer has hit the books again, making us all “masterfully” proud.
Throughout the season we’ll have lots of blended family around the 2016 tree. Our fifth great-grandchild now swells our joy; alas, yet another year without the blessing of my daughter and her three children so removed by life’s journey.
God is good — the longer I live, the more blessed I am.
I am determined to have a very Merry Christmas, and pray it to be so for you and yours.
Our church youth will make us proud of their upcoming December 18 pageant. How exciting. How wonderful!
Merry Christmas. Do add Church to your celebrating.