My first Christmas Eve as the spouse of a solo pastor was 6 years ago. The couple of months leading up to Christmas had been a whirlwind and I was looking forward to Christmas in the hopes that it would afford me a chance to stop and catch my breath. We had received news at the end of October that my husband was being appointed to a church and that we needed to be ready to move into the new parsonage by early December. The flurry of packing and goodbyes began almost immediately and our heads were still spinning when the moving truck pulled up to our new parsonage just 5 weeks after being told that we were moving. We found ourselves in a place that, at that time, felt very foreign and was several hours away from our families.
We did our best to unpack and settle in as quickly as possible. People from our church stopped by with poinsettias and fruit baskets, the youth group put together a directory of fun and helpful biographies of themselves. One woman offered to babysit for our 5 month-old baby whenever we needed her. Our congregation truly rolled out the welcome mat for us. But despite the welcome, what I remember most about that time is how chaotic it was. That was the year we did all of our Christmas shopping for both sides of our family in 2½ hours on December 21st. That was the year we bought our Christmas tree for half-price from the Lion’s Club, because it was so late in the season that they couldn't reasonably charge us any more. We were invited to Christmas parties held by some of the Sunday school classes and what I remember most is rooms full of strangers whose names I was sure I would never remember. So, why in the world I thought Christmas Eve would be any different from the previous 2 months, I really don’t know. For some reason I expected that on December 24th, the whirlwind we had been riding on for 2 months would magically stop and our little family would be able to do the things that most non-clergy families do-–finish up the last of the baking, watch some Christmas specials on T.V., and put our son to bed and wrap the last of the gifts together.
I know now that this really was an unreasonable expectation. I mean really, when you’re married to a minister and one of the two biggest church services of the year happens on December 24th, that day is not going to be like most other peoples’. And it shouldn't be like most people’s-–not if one’s pastor-spouse is committed to providing a meaningful Christmas Eve worship opportunity. But silly, inexperienced, naïve me was so caught up in the chaos of my world and my own wants and needs that I was truly blown away when Christmas Eve did not turn out like I expected. My expectation was that my husband, son, and I would spend the day together basking in the peace of lightly falling snow and listening to Christmas music, having conversation over cups of hot chocolate about how we had made it though such a tough couple of months, and anticipating the joy of watching our little one tear the wrapping off his gifts. Sure, my husband might have to wander over to the church around 6:30 so that all would be ready for the Christmas Eve service, but other than that I figured he probably didn't have anything else to do that day.
Well, suffice it to say, Christmas Eve turned out to look very little like the picture I had dreamed up in my mind. There were still many things that I needed to get done at home in order for our family to be ready to leave for our vacation that was to start right after Christmas. My husband needed to be sure that all the details for the Christmas Eve services were getting done, and many of those details had been left to him to handle. This was his first big event and having it go well would help set a foundation for the rest of our time at this church. However, I was so caught up in my own world that I was shocked when the day passed in a flurry of busy-ness.
What about that hot chocolate?
Time, self-reflection, and experience helped me to see that my expectations we really out of touch with reality. Being part of a clergy family means that Christmas is going to look and feel different for us than for the rest of the world. Our spouses are going to work themselves to the bone because they love and serve Emmanuel-–God With Us-–and want their congregations to experience all that God’s work through Jesus Christ means for humanity. I have come to see my husband’s Christmas planning and preparations as an act of love for God and our congregation. I love to watch him think up and put into action new ways of opening people’s eyes to the world changing birth of Jesus, the Christ, and I do not mind that our Christmas Eve doesn't look like most other people’s. I also know that come December 25th, we will get to snuggle up together over hot chocolate and watch the snow fall. We will reflect on the miracle of Christ’s birth and the blessings God has bestowed upon our family in the past year. And the chaos will have ended, because it always does.