Date: December 19, 2016

For most of my life, I have been a romantic about Christmas. I don’t mean in the Currier and Ives or Thomas Kinkade sense; I mean in the sense that I always wanted Christmas to be a certain way. I worked at creating the perfect Christmas—decorating early in December, preparing an Advent Calendar and Advent wreath, reading Christmas books and listening to Christmas music from the day after Thanksgiving. I wrote cards, or a Christmas letter, to dozens of relatives and friends. I packed Christmas boxes for faraway family members. Nearly every year since I was a first-year student at Houghton, I have read the book of Isaiah during Advent—and, most years, W.H. Auden’s For the Time Being: A Christmas Oratorio. As a longtime faculty member, I got my grading done so that I was not preoccupied with work during Christmas break. And, on Christmas Eve, I listened to Handel’s Messiah with my father. Most of all, I wanted nothing messy or painful to intrude on the beauty of Christmas.

Only recently have I realized that I had it all—or mostly—wrong. I still like Christmas books—especially those written for children—and I still like Christmas music—especially Mahalia Jackson and Jessye Norman. I still read Isaiah and W.H. Auden. I still decorate and write cards and pack boxes. But something is changing: I am no longer trying to control Christmas.

It did not happen all at once. The change started when circumstances meant that I could not be with my family for Christmas itself. Becoming a full-time administrator meant that there was no clean break from work. And, in this season of my life, I am confronting issues that I cannot fix—no matter how hard I try. They will not move out of the way this year to make room for an idealized vision of Christmas.  

This past weekend, we had to drive from Pittsburgh to Rochester to retrieve the car that we had left at the Rochester Airport. (It was one of those crazy travel adventures that only a close friend would care to hear about!) The point is that, in the midst of this unscheduled adventure, Christmas came to me. I had invited it to come—to be sure—by the preparations. But it came on its own—the settled confidence that the message the angels gave to the shepherds is for me too. Unto you a child is born—yes, you, in this December of 2016—yes, you, with the particular challenges of your life, the challenges of your work, the challenges of your country, the challenges of your world. The Word has become flesh and come to live among us. God is with us—and will be with us—not only in this Christmas season but in every day of the New Year.

 May Christmas come to you too this year in the ways you most need.

Shirley Mullen signature

 Shirley A. Mullen, Class of 1976