Holy Tide

by the Rev. Katherine Bush


“… 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.

18 thoughts on “Holy Tide”

  1. Katherine,
    Well done. You certainly have a talent for seeing into and writing about the heart of the matter. Your words also rapidly reach into one’s heart.
    Patti and I look forward to meeting you when the COVID and its relative scares have subsided. We all hope soon.
    Bobby Dodge and Patti McNeil

  2. I can almost feel the weightlessness of being carried safely by that Holy Tide to the shore! Thank you, Katherine!

  3. I love this image, Katherine and the reminder that God and his purpose are as reliable as the tides. Thank you and Merry Christmas.

  4. Thank you Katherine for your wonderful words. As a displaced “Nor’easter” I know the importance of the tides. No matter how far we roam the high tide always brings us home as you mentioned. Christmas Blessings.
    Rick Shields

  5. Katherine, I love this. There is so much to think about and be encouraged by in considering the Holy Tide. I got to read it today along with enjoying the service and your sermon online. And I want to add a Boxing Day addendum to this lovely meditation, one that comes straight from the mouth of my grandson, who turns 4 today, Elizabeth’s son, Walter. He is enjoying Christmas singing along with all things Christmas this year and belted out, ‘I want to wish you a Merry Christmas / I want to wish you a Merry Christmas / I want to wish you a Merry Christmas / from MY BOTTOM TO MY HEART’ ! I loved that because it made us laugh and whether as a theologian or a physician, one considers the bodily incarnation and the holiness of all of our bodies – it actually says a lot. Merry Second Day of Christmas to you.

    1. Jeanne – It doesn’t get more incarnational than that – perfection! Thanks so much for reading (and listening) and sharing your thoughts here. I hope you and your family enjoy the whole of Christmas-tide.

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