The craziest Christmas I ever spent was at York Hospital. I was the chaplain resident assigned to the psychiatric unit. What a year and what an education. Among so many stellar memories, my most cherished are those of Christmas Eve 1995.
Most of the patients on the voluntary treatment side had gone home, and so we held our worship service and fellowship time on the locked unit. The State Hospitals had by and large all been shut down by then, so the patients on 3-South were really ill. You didn’t get in there if you didn’t really need to be there.
There was the man who put foil on his head so that the CIA couldn’t monitor his brainwaves. There was the beautiful old woman who wore a stylish beret with her bathrobe and would dance gracefully around the tables and chairs. There was the woman who thought I worked for the phone company. There were the eighty-year old twins who dressed in identical sailor outfits with jaunty tie and hat. They were all wonderful and special.
We gathered around a long table and read the birth story from Luke. They knew the words before I even read them. We sang songs, we prayed, and if memory serves we even colored in Christmas-themed coloring books. We ate cookies and shared stories of our favorite holiday moments. Even the most lost and most confused had something to share. Each of us had burdens and lives that were not quite whole. And the light of Christ was available to each of us, all the more so because of our brokenness.
What could be crazier than Christianity? We are a faith whose foundational story features a tiny king born in a stable to a teenage mother and her reluctant husband, surrounded by animals and lowly shepherds. That baby grew into a man who knew the life that we know and who shared fellowship with the lowly, not the mighty. Then he poured out his life as an extravagant gift of unearned grace for all of us. What could be crazier than that?
We so long to tame our faith, domesticate it, have it look a little less crazy for the neighbors’ sake. But let’s face it. . . who could make up the story we read in church on Christmas Eve? It has a wildness that cannot be overcome by our need for predictability and sensibility. As disciples we are more presentable than the ones gathered around that table at York Hospital on Christmas Eve 1995. But we are just as broken. Only a wild religion could reach all those broken places.
Tear open the heavens and come down to earth, Lord Jesus! Shine your star upon us! We are waiting in the Advent darkness for the One who was, who is, and who is to come. May each and every one of us have the craziest Christmas ever—full of love, laughter, and light.*
* I first wrote this for our newsletter in 2008, but it seemed to fit this year!