“These people always come unglued at Christmas!” Donna – my best friend’s mom – said this with amused exasperation as she waved a ceramic postman carrying a sack of presents, now detached from the little girl walking next to him, through the air. We were in the process of unwrapping all of the houses, people, cars, trees, swing-sets and other assorted items that comprised the family snow village. Twenty years ago, when I was in elementary school and had just met Megan, it was a much smaller enterprise – though it had filled me with a certain sense of winter delight even then. Something like urban sprawl set in while we were in college, as family members and friends donated to the collection, and the village now occupied two tables erected just for this singular purpose. It was tradition to set it all up on the weekend after Thanksgiving and I was grateful to be in town for such a nostalgia-filled event.
A couple more boxes later and we had discovered two more figurines that had come dislodged from their snowy footing. A man standing outside and the virgin Mary from the nativity that was meant to go in front of the church. Donna said it again, “Always. They always come unglued!” And then she paused, “but I guess a lot of people come unglued this time of year.”
As she ducked into the kitchen to find the super glue, I couldn’t help but think that she was absolutely right. I know far more people who find this time of year to be stress-filled, anxious, depressing and, in all honesty, a royal pain than I do people who find it holy or joy-filled. In fact, I know quite a few who would say that this is one of their least favorite times of the year. Why? Because of all of the money they have to spend buying presents and all of the work they put into making this the “perfect Christmas” and all of the expectations that don’t get met – theirs and their loved-ones’. And, of course, it’s that time of year when you’re expected to be cheerful because “all is merry and bright” – which makes the pain of grief, whether over someone who’s died or a relationship that’s fallen apart or even the loss of a job, all the more poignant. People really do come unglued at Christmas, and with so much pressure, so much expectation, it’s not hard to see why. But what are we to do? Yes, as a church we stand up to the rampant consumerism of our modern culture, but for these people coming apart right in front of us, what are we to do right now?
When Donna returned with the glue – two kinds – she got right to work. Mary was a relatively simple fix; for whatever reason, once glued she stayed put. But the same could not be said for the postman and the other guy. Donna tried one glue to no avail. Then she tried the other. At first, both men just tipped right back over. So she tried again and held them tightly, sitting quietly on the couch waiting for the glue to dry while I unwrapped more houses. She did this with such patience, never giving up on these two broken figures.
Maybe the answer to “what are we to do” is just that simple. Hold onto those unglued people with patience and don’t give up on them. Which is hard enough to do during the rest of the year, never mind at Christmas when we spend so much time buying and preparing for our family and friends that we don’t necessarily see them all that much. Personally, I find it easy to get so caught up in the busy-ness of the Advent rush that I neglect to take time for real people – I might even, on occasion, regard them as a distraction from all that I need to do. Yet this is the season when we pause to marvel at the thought that God became a real person – a real baby – to walk with us real people, holding onto us with patience and never giving up on us. So perhaps one of the most fitting gifts that we can give at Christmas is to follow in our Creator’s path. Because people come unglued at Christmas, and part of our call as the church is to sit patiently beside them while we wait for God’s super glue to dry.
Jennifer Barchi is serving as the Solo Pastor at Dickey Memorial Presbyterian Church in Baltimore, MD, where she lives with her dog Cyrus.