As simple as we try to keep things, I find Christmas in the States quite hard. I am not blaming the U.S. for this. Yes, we are the nation of materialism like no other on the planet. But I will not say it is the fault of this nation that I struggle.
I think, rather, it has to do with the fact that I am away from the familiar paths that focus me on Christ. It’s not that there are no paths to Him here, it’s just that they are not the ones I have been journeying on. Many of the people around me are not the people I have been sharing the journey with. And so, as I approached the celebration of God made incarnate, I found myself adrift and a little bewildered.
I sent my nephew the five-disc set of Christmas music by Sufjan Stevens. He thought I was Super Aunt. I ordered one for us as well but in the week before Christmas I had little time to hear it. It played between stops during my busy week spent mostly in the car running here and there. It was like tiny tastes of goodness dropped in the mouth of a slightly deranged woman.
On Christmas Day I sat in the kitchen with Rachel, my English sister-in-law. We were pathetic, I admit. We sat at the table limp and a bit faded around the edges talking about why moms are so tired at this time of year. (Meanwhile, Super Mom, AKA my mother, was zipping around the kitchen in a jolly fashion!) Rachel and I revived after our kitchen table time and the day really was nice.
Yet that sense of disconnect lingered as I climbed into bed with a list in my head of all the work I have ahead of me in the weeks to come.
Our family pulled out of the drive-way on the 26th at 7:30am to drive to New Mexico. With Trevor driving and Byron up front keeping an eye on that, I pulled out my headphones and my Sufjan Christmas cds. My sister had called on Christmas Eve to say that the five discs had pretty much saved her Christmas. (She loves to say things in a really big way.)
I will not try to explain it. I think Sufjan defies explanation anyway. I love the mix of old hymns, carols and tunes with his original stuff. I love “Oh Holy Night” on a banjo. I love that the collection includes “Come Thou Fount of Every Blessing,” one of my very favorite hymns. (It contains the lines, “Here I raise my Ebenezer, hither by thy grace I’ve come. And I hope by thy good pleasure safely to arrive at home.” I suppose it’s the multiple locations of my life and the knowledge that my sojourning grandparents named every home they lived in “Ebenezer” that makes these lines sparkle to me somehow.)
Simply put, as the eastern edges of California melted into Arizona dessert, I found what I had been needing to connect with Jesus this Christmas. Trevor calls new Alchemy guitar strings “Happiness in a box.” Colin says the same about his new Adidas Sambas. For me, because the little discs seemed to know how to open the places in my heart I was longing to be opened, the places that so wanted to see Jesus anew this Season, I would say the same…
The Sufjan Stevens Songs for Christmas: Happiness in a Box.