It is Christmas Eve in the pastor's house. I have spent the morning preparing food in the kitchen. Five pans of various kinds of sweet rolls (all from scratch): peanut butter rolls, caramel pecan rolls, soft cinnamon rolls. I make lunch for the kids at home, we eat, I clean up the lunch dishes and the kitchen. I wash the kitchen floor. By this time it is nearly 1:30, so I take some time to rest before the most important evening of my vocational year, a night when we have two services and can expect between 400 and 500 people to worship together. It is a night I anticipate with both a bit of dread as well as expectation. I always have a modicum of dread because I recognize how spiritually important these moments are, especially for those who are infrequent worshipers, or those who have returned "home" to be with parents or grandparents. For those who worship with us nearly every week it is not so important that I always be at my preacherly best, but on Christmas Eve everyone wants to be proud of their pastor. They expect, graciously of course, a second-to-none worship experience, a superbly crafted and delivered message and the opportunity to share with guests the importance of their faith community. God always helps me in those moments, but I always have some anticipatory dread that my humanity will overpower my desire to be a vessel of God's goodness.
It is, however, a time I always anticipate with joy because it is a moment to witness the joy of generations, parents and grandparents, infants, toddlers, elementary-aged kids, teenagers and young adults, all gathering together for a festive, celebratory evening together. I love to scan the crowd and mentally put the pieces together, I love the end of the service when I stand at the door to briefly greet and meet the people. It's always a challenge to remember names, but I work hard at doing so, and last night I was able to greet by first name at least 85% of the people who worshiped with us. It's truly a delightful experience.
But until those moments come, I am surly, a bit cranky and easily irritated. The combination of my pre-service jitters coupled with my children's out of the control giddiness is never a good combination. So on Christmas Eve afternoon as I attempt to rest before our first service at 5:00 PM our most energetic and flustered child bounds in the room and asks if he can spend some time with me. I gruffly respond "Yeah, but this is a quiet room right now. You can be here, but you can't talk to me." With widened eyes he looks at me and says, "OK, dad." He busies himself with wrapping gifts, none of which are new, all of which he has owned and used. He is eleven, medicated for his several diagnoses, and not always in sync with the rest of his world. As much as he tries he cannot respect the "this is a quiet room" pronouncement, and so he babbles happily about his task. "Look, dad, I'm wrapping up my baseball cards." I grunt in reply. "Oh, and I'm going to wrap this, too," he says, his joy unfettered by my mute reluctance to speak.
I am emotionally caught. I think it is wonderful to see that Dominyk is so generous, but I also know how his siblings will respond to his well-intentioned second-hand gifts. Most of his siblings will be gracious and quietly return the "gifts" to his room at some point, but others will smirk, feign disappointment or express words of derision.
"Dominyk," I implore, "do you really think your siblings want your used baseball cards? They might not be very receptive you know." I am trying to protect his feelings from the words that will come his way on the morrow as his siblings unwrap their battered, well-taped presents.
He looks up at me, in the midst of tape, scissors, gift wrap and scraps floating about, and with a Christmas-inspired frenzy in his eyes, says to me, "Dad, I just want to give."
A moment of silence ensues. I consider his generous spirit, his desire to share with others all that he has. With the energy he has imported into my bedroom, I recognize that I will not be taking the nap I had hoped. I will be tired, but God will help me do my best to share with those gathered the joy and depth of Christmas Eve. I ponder Dominyk's words once again. "I just want to give." And I quietly concur. "Me, too, Dominyk. Me too."