Having grown up in a Christian environment, it is unsurprising I continue to find comfort in many Christian traditions—including many Christmas trappings. I like Christmas Carols. I say, “Merry Christmas” with abandonment. I find angels and stars and nativity scenes pretty.
One thing I always enjoyed was the Christmas Eve service, where typically one sang Carols by candlelight. I announced plans to attend a former church’s Christmas Eve service, and the rest of the family piled along.
We sang Carols by Candlelight; I joyously joined in. Watched the band play Christmas songs; liked that too. Saw a skit about the innkeeper; I chuckled at the appropriate moments.
But there was something else—something that didn’t exist in my memories of tradition. Too much knowledge; too much information.
When referring to the innkeeper from “No room for them at the inn” (Luke 2:7), my mind, unbidden, immediately thought of how this wasn’t a “hotel” as we envision, but rather a large gathering room at one of Joseph’ family member’s house. How the author of Luke uses the word kata luma rather than a pandocheion (Luke 10:34)—a place for strangers to obtain lodging.
Or when it was mentioned how terrible to be born in a stable, I remembered how animals typically stayed in the same lodging as humans, especially in winter. A running gag involved how exciting the census was, and I had to clamp my lips shut from saying, “Not at all! This census so infuriated the Judeans, it led to the Jewish Revolt and the complete destruction of the Temple!”
This nuance would pop up, or this platitude would be spoken, and each time my mind thought of all the things unstated. Incorrect. Unknown to the vast majority of the audience.
I realized an analogy would be watching a magic show. But a magic show where you already knew how every trick was performed. As much as you would try to enjoy yourself in the moment, your eye couldn’t help but wander to where the magician was palming the handkerchief at just the right moment. You can appreciate the mastering of the trick, yet your mind was anticipating how the box would fold, or when the girl would appear, or how the mirrors were not solid.
In some manner it would be regrettable, because you can’t quite suspend your disbelief to enjoy the magic show for what it is; you know too much. You can’t enjoy it as MAGIC--it is parlor tricks.
I felt the same way. I know what the Pastor was trying to say. I understand the points being made. I understand the rest of the audience “oohhed” and “aahhhed” at the wonderment of magic being displayed before them. Yet it is no longer magic to me.
I still enjoyed the singing. I enjoyed seeing people I haven’t seen in some time. I could see how I would enjoy the socialization of church.
I could do the Christmas Eve service again next year without hesitation. I just cannot re-capture the naivety of the nativity anymore.