“… this holy tide of Christmas/ is filled with heav’nly grace.
O tidings of comfort and joy, comfort and joy,/ O tidings of comfort and joy.”
I’m writing this after the last meals have been served and the tables cleared from our Emmanuel Meal on Monday afternoon. Our doors were open for a steady flow of people who came for a warm meal and vaccines and gift cards and some hospitality for the better part of the day. Among the folks who did come to eat with us today were a few who shared stories of laughter and joy and also those of hardship and trauma as we sat together.
I’m also writing this as we anticipate the last long nights before the Earth’s axis starts to shift subtly back giving those of us in this part of the world the hope for spring and more light. Many places will mark these evenings with an acknowledgment of the darkness and the difficulty of facing the frivolity of the coming holiday. The long hours of the night are real this time of year, whether you meet them with extra twinkly lights in your front yard or a meditative and solemn service.
So, maybe that’s why I’m thinking about Frederick Buechner’s somewhat melancholy story that he recounts in The Christmas Tide, a tale of a brother and sister trying to come to terms with a great loss. Near the end of his short book, the two siblings are trying to make sense of some unfamiliar lyrics to the Christmas carols they’ve sung. After a gathering for gifting, they’ve been to church in what seems like the middle of the night and when they get home they are woozy with carols and sensory overload. Bean, the little sister, wants to know why they were singing about the beach in the middle of all that, and her ten-year-old brother Teddy can’t figure out what in the world his sister is talking about. Finally, he realizes she’s talking about these lines …
Now to the Lord sing praises,/ all you within this place, / and in true love and fellowship each
other now embrace;/ this holy tide of Christmas/ is filled with heav’nly grace.
Teddy’s not really sure whether the “holy tide of Christmas” has anything to do with the tide at the beach, but her question does bring back his memories of being together with his family at the shore and of learning how to swim and of learning that “no matter how far the low tide goes out, the high tide always comes in again as high as ever.” He lies in his bed quietly for a long time remembering until she prods him again.
Bean asks Teddy, “What is the tide of Christmas then if you think you’re so smart?” and Teddy replies: “It’s the high tide, Bean… It’s the one that brings you home.” “Everybody?” Bean said. “Everybody,” Teddy said.
The last days of Advent are here, and the season of Christmas – Christmastide – is about to wash over us. I really love the childlike mix-up that gives us a tidal pull in the form of the coming twelve-day season. It works for me. That holy tide of Christmas carried people in our doors to eat today and also all the people to serve and to cook and to clean up. That holy tide is carrying all kinds of people in all sorts of conditions through these days of darkness and of bright lights. The holy tide of Christmas comes again this year, thank goodness. The holy tide of Christmas washes in no matter what else is swirling around. And no matter how far the low tide goes out, the high tide always comes in again as high as ever. That holy tide of Christmas is filled with heavenly grace. That holy tide of Christmas is the high tide carrying us all home again.
O tidings of comfort and joy, comfort and joy,/ O tidings of comfort and joy.