It is no wonder that clergy get the week after Christmas off. The last few days, I have been wrecked, so I am glad not to have to worry too much about the Church, but to recover.
So I have asked myself, how come I am so tired? Mostly the cost of Christmas is emotional.
The first thing is in fact the intensity of the message itself. We sing ‘Oh come to us, be born in us our King ‘Emmanuel’!’ And I ask myself ‘So if God being born in me? If so, how?’ What about the tensions that exist in parish life? How dos God speak the word of peace and love into these situations? I experience the pressure not to be hypocritical more at Christmas and Easter than at other times. And that has its costs, because I am aware of how I don’t measure up.
Then there is the cost of putting on lots of Church. Last Friday, instead of having to do one pew sheet, I had to do three. Then, as each piece of worship unfolded, I saw the mistakes! They weren’t too bad, but I noticed them none the less. The kind of Church is a bit different from a normal Sunday too, so there is always the chance that something will not go according to plan, so dealing with the anxiety about that when it happens also has its cost.
There is also the cost of never knowing how many people are going to arrive. Mostly the people we have at Christmas are visitors. So not only do we not know how many people are coming, there is an added pressure to make them feel welcome. Tis year the ‘warm up’ helped a lot I thought in making a collection of visitors feel like God’s family.
We also did not know how many people there would be for Christmas lunch. We made a general invitation, and then had some people say ‘Yes’, then ‘no;’ then ‘Yes’ again. We had to be open to whom ever was going to come. In the end we had a lovely lunch! I got to play ‘father’ by buying presents for young children for the first time in my life.
And then there is the cost of risk taking. At the request of the Chaplaincy Council, we had the Christmas Eve Eucharist at 8.00 pm this year. We advertised it as ‘Children Especially Welcome’. But would they come? What kind of a Christmas sermon can I prepare that would do for young people, but which would do for adults too, if no young people came?
So these few days of quiet are important. And during them I have been thinking that God must be feeling something similar, because the mind of tiredness I am feeling is really the kind of tiredness that comes from being open: open to new ideas, open to new people, open to my own sense of inadequacy, open to several possibilities at once, open to God. When I think about God, I think about God’s openness to us. God’s risk taking with us. Not only is God open to the world that he has made, God risks himself to us in openness. The story of the Holy Innocents, which we celebrate tomorrow shows that entrenched forces of power will try to kill the presence of alternatives when they arrive, even if like the Christ Child, these forces are the forces of light, openness and truth. Openness brings with it risk, and living with risk has its costs from which one has to recover.
This openness is at Christmas is also a symbol of the openness that we as a congregation are trying to demonstrate. We keep the Church door open now. Yesterday I was in there cleaning up from Christmas. One of the people who lives in the flats near the Theatre ‘dAlcazar was in there praying. She asked me if I would pray for her too. Which I did. As I was praying, the door opened and another person came in ad sat at the back to pray. In the Summer there are more, but I find that more and more people are coming to use our building for what it was meant for. It is a great ministry. But this too runs the risk that people who do not respect our openness will damage us and our property. Will our insurance pay out if we are damaged? I don’t know yet. But whether or not the insurance will pay out, the question we are faced with is the one God is faced with: what is the cost I am prepared to bear for openness and love?
In Australia, there has been a gradual tendency to increase the security of banks. There are big Perspex screens and bars, that separate the customer from the employees. I used to love going to the bank in the country town where I loved, because of the ‘human’ dimension to banking that it represented. There is another way of doing this in Switzerland and Europe. I think that the Banks here have got something right, between the need for security and the need for a human interaction in the banking transaction, especially since many people can just get cash from an electronic machine now.
When the twin towers came down on 9th September 2000, the president of the United States said something like ‘We will not be terrorised, we will not let terror win’. But then all the airports began to increase their security to very high levels, so that people will feel safe in flying. The experience has become a more closed down one for me, because we have in fact been terrorised.
Everyone is faced with the question of how to make the right balance between being safe and secure, and being open. Every decision involves living with some kind of risk. One way that we have tried here is to staff the Church building, so that there would be someone present most of the time. We have not had enough people to provide enough cover for the whole week, but that is one good way to make the balance between openness and security. I would love to be able to set up a little shop that might make us some money, as well as provide a secure presence. So far we have not been able to do that.
So thinking about why I need to recover from Christmas brings me to the heart of God, but also to some significant theological issues for Church life., Why would it be otherwise?