Daring acts of rebellion crammed with moments of wonder, awe and struggle

The opening bars of Bing Crosby’s White Christmas transport me back six decades. Instantaneously and unintentionally, I land in the small two-bedroom house of my childhood, sitting with my back leaning against the kitchen wall, my mother working over the newly acquired electric stove, my brother in the play pen, snow drifting against the back door. Nostalgic memories of home. The song has worked its magic.

The Christmas season contains a sack full of memories that lie like tinder awaiting a spark to ignite images. I am amazed by the variety of feelings they provoke.

  • The happy giggles of children ripping off wrapping
  • The delightful gasps of surprise with wishes fulfilled and exceeded.
  • The satisfaction of givers seeing their offerings hit the mark.
  • The laughter infused chatter from family and friends gathered around the Christmas table. The feast ending only when people push back chairs and waddle to the nearest couch.

My recollections are not Disney pure. Moments of pain and disruption unleashed by too much alcohol or drugs, long-standing grudges that erupt to grate across joy like sandpaper, empty chairs and silent phones season the images of merry and bright.

And, beneath it all, the powerful desire of the family to do the right thing and be the right kind of people. In Biblical language, the palpable desire to be righteous, although not self-righteous.

My Christmas storybook contains episodes of new life, wonder and awe, gifts, gratitude, and struggle.

I take comfort that the Christian Christmas overflows with characters exhibiting similar feelings and spiritual challenges. Fear, weariness, confusion mix with a profound desire of good people to do the right thing, even while living under forces that would destroy innocence. I stumble with the right people towards the mystery and wonder of Christmas.

Navigating the mix requires intentionality.

Sadness, grief and their cousins will be acknowledged but not be allowed to run amok. Wounds and losses accepted but denied an open mike.

So often, as a church leader, I found it challenging to stay grounded in the moment. The lure of staying on cue for what should come next, any disturbances in the congregation, technical malfunctions, or just plain weariness distracted. The freedom to take time to listen deeply to the Christmas readings and sit and enjoy the music is one of the retirement gifts I intend to open. 

Gone are the days of head down, collapse later. (Fortunately, one of my new skills seems to be the ability to nap at a moment’s notice.) And I am determined to sacrifice my inclination to manage events and schedules. 

Christmas has always been a complicated pudding. The recipe evolves with each stage of life. Some of the ingredients become stale, others gain new potency.

Time to deeply reimagine where life lies and not easily surrender moments of wonder and awe.

My playlist may include Jingle Bell Rock, Little Saint Nick and Silent Night but deeper chords resonate. The Christmas bells sound the call to the tenacious practice of living with a sense of hope, clinging to the promise of peace, refusing to give up joy or yield love to cynicism. 

Photo by Gareth Harper on Unsplash


  1. Thank you, Keith. I appreciate the honest message of hope and joy and struggle. Also the image about grudges that “erupt to grate across joy like sandpaper” – I pray that as we “stumble … towards the mystery and wonder of Christmas” we will NOT “easily surrender moments of wonder and awe” – no graters here!

    Blessings to you and Gaye this Christmas season

  2. What a wonderfully evocative message, hitting all the right notes that support hope, effort, intentionality, courage. I will hold onto the valuable idea of ‘a history of being with the right people trying to do the right thing.’

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