Burning the Christmas Candle at Both Ends

Look, I know Santa just pulled an all-nighter, flew through serious turbulence over Iceland, and had to put up with – yet again – Prancer’s “attitude” that no one has yet to write a song about him. (You live on nothing but lichen between Thanksgiving and Christmas, and watch what happens to your temper.) But my great friend and the pastor of the United Church of Lincoln, David Wood, just performed four church services in 16 hours.

Yup. Four in 16. This is what happens when Christmas falls on a Sunday.

“From a spiritual point of view, I love it when Christmas comes on a Sunday. From a practical point of view, it’s terrifying,” David told me.

Specifically, last night there were three services at the church here in Lincoln. There was a 7:00 p.m. pageant for families – and this year the pageant was mighty impressive, with Saint Nicholas himself sharing the story of the Nativity. Then there was an 8:30 p.m. service that was more traditional, just as joyous, but at least marginally less raucous. Finally, at 11:30 p.m., there was the quiet, contemplative, communal service that ended shortly after midnight – on Christmas Day. And while the church’s youth pastor, Todd Goodyear, did the heaviest lifting at that very first service, David was still plenty involved.

In any case, after three services in five hours last night, David finally collapsed into bed about quarter to one on Christmas morning. . .and was back in the sanctuary today, preaching, ten hours later.

That workload might not daunt Santa, but it would most mortals.

It has always seemed to me that the majority of priests and ministers and rabbis and imams work incredibly hard. Certainly David does. To wit: I will never forget when my wife was in labor with our daughter a little over 18 years ago. When Grace arrived…so did David. The labor was 22 hours, but still he was there within forty minutes of Grace’s arrival. Two months ago, my wife had six hours of kidney surgery. I had told David about it the day before. Sure enough, there he was the next day at the hospital. And it’s not like my wife gets preferential treatment. (Given the number of Humane Society shelter cats she has tried to foist on David’s family, in point of fact he should be giving her a very wide berth.) He is always comforting someone or some family in hospitals in two counties. And then there are the funerals. And the christenings. And the baptisms. And the marriages. And the meetings. And the counseling. And the Yankees. (We all have our flaws.)

David has been the pastor here in Lincoln since 1979, so this is not the first time that Christmas has fallen on a Sunday on his watch. He knows what to expect: “Everything speeds up. Nothing slows down.” Consequently, he had his sermons done weeks ahead of time. He had a plan in place to get the props from the pageant removed from the sanctuary in time for the 8:30 service. And, once again, he made sure that all six church fire extinguishers were distributed discretely to volunteer firefighters before that first Christmas Eve service, since it would end with the congregation – including the children – raising and lowering lit candles while we all sang “Silent Night.”

But despite the borderline bedlam that can mark this time of the year for us all, he tries not to lose sight of the blessings that come with that chaos. “What is most special for me every Sunday, but even more as we approach Christmas and Easter, is the realization that I get to speak the good news to people. Christian faith isn’t about rules and regulations, it is about our relationship with a God who loves us enough to choose to be with us.”

Indeed. So, while I remain impressed as heck with what Santa Claus and his reindeer just pulled off, I am mighty grateful as well for the work of David Wood and his peers.

Merry Christmas. Happy Hanukkah. Peace.

(This column originally appeared in the Burlington Free Press on December 25, 2011. Chris’s next novel, “The Sandcastle Girls,” arrives in the autumn of 2012.)

Chris Bohjalian

Chris Bohjalian is the author of nineteen books, including his forthcoming novel, The Sleepwalker. His other novels include the New York Times bestsellers Midwives, The Sandcastle Girls, The Guest Room, and The Double Bind.