Everyone has now gone home: my wife's brother to South Carolina; and my sons and daughter-in-law to Kentucky. Now the clean-up begins.
That was our task for the weekend. The decorations are back in their containers; well, mostly. The Christmas tree angel, after its 35th Christmas, is safely stored for another year. The tree, delivered exactly one month ago today, is bagged and on the street. The furniture is now arranged back in its original locations. The cards are all gone and the address list updated. The sheets and towels are getting washed. The inflatable beds are rolled up and in the closet. I spent most of my weekend sweeping up evergreen needles, which have a tendency to get everywhere.
Christmas is back in the box. Where it belongs. After a month of the chaos and disruption, things are getting back to normal. It's about time. I'm not sure I could have stood any more of it.
Every year, Christmas disrupts our lives and shatters our routines. It breaks into our normal patterns and turns them upside down. It is not too different, I suppose, than the first Christmas.
It certainly disrupted the lives of Joseph and Mary, who traveled from Nazareth to Bethlehem and then on to Egypt; of the shepherds, who left their flocks and went to see the child; of the wise men from the East, who left all behind to follow a star. And it most certainly disrupted the lives of the villagers of Bethlehem whose infant sons were slaughtered by Herod in a jealous and murderous rage.
There is a limit to how much chaos, how much danger, how much loss, how much disruption one can take. There came a time for Joseph and Mary and the baby to go home. There came a time for the shepherds to go back to work. There came a time for the wise men to return from whence they came.
There even came a time for the days of mourning in Bethlehem to end.
There is just so much Christmas anyone can take. I, for one, am happy to have it back in the box.
Except, of course, I'll continue to find pine needles in unexpected places when I least expect them, when I'm not armed with a broom and dust pan. I hope I find them when I need to remember about what happened at Christmas, that the truth is life has been changed forever and the world will never quite be the same. I hope I find them when I need to remember that normalcy, routines, and patterns are illusory and idolatrous because God is actually in charge.
I hope I find them when I need to remember that, try as I might, Christmas is never really back in box. Neither is God.
Bishop Stacy Sauls is the Chief Operating Officer of the Episcopal Church.