“This is it. No turning back. Another Christmas in the trenches,” said young Kevin McCallister in Home Alone 2 just before he did battle with the same two thieves from the first movie. In both movies, the story is the same. Kevin has a falling out with his family and is subsequently forgotten or separated during the craziness of the family vacation departure. In the first movie he gets left behind at home while his family boards a flight to Paris. In the second, he gets separated from his father at the airport and ends up on a plane to New York with his family on a flight to Florida. In both movies he does battle against two thieves with an intricate set of booby traps.
“Another Christmas in the trenches.” I think the line probably has more to do with the whole scenario rather than just the ensuing war with Harry and Marv. Sure Christmas in the trenches was the confrontation with the two most inept robbers ever, but it was also the isolation from his family emotionally and physically, being all alone at Christmas whether at home in Chicago or as a stranger in New York City. Christmas in the trenches was every bit as emotional and mental as it was the physical battle.
My Christmas 2022 had me feeling a lot like Kevin. No, Harry and Marv didn’t show up. No, I didn’t have to set up traps (though, I have some ideas). My trenches were caused by things beyond my control that waged war against me and caused emotional and mental distress and a feeling of isolation.
Here’s my tale. ‘Twas the night before Christmas Eve, when our family had to drive south to do our Christmas gatherings with extended family. The real feel temperature was something like -50 but we didn’t see another window to make this happen. So we braved the frozen tundra that was I-55 and made it with only minor emotional damage. We were at my grandparents house when I got a text from a church member who had gone to the building to shoot hoops with some neighborhood kids. As they gave a tour of the building to one of the neighbors, they discovered that our sanctuary was 55 degrees and falling. The choir room behind the sanctuary was heading toward sub 40. The sprinkler room in the basement had no heat running in it at all and was in pipes freezing territory.
Phone calls were exchanged with the Head Trustee and a repairman was able to come out. The choir room seemed easy enough, the vent just had some ice in it. The temp in that room instantly began to rise. We decided the sanctuary was just struggling to catch up because it’s a large room and was set on a schedule; we’d override the schedule to get through the cold patch. The sprinkler room furnace was completely down and needed a new part that the repairman could get on Christmas Eve and install. WHOOOHOOO! Good news. Let’s move on with life.
Except nothing happened the way we thought it would.
On Christmas Eve morning, I went to check the temps. After being on the override schedule for over 12 hours, the sanctuary was still only 58. We needed it above 60 or we’d be looking at cancelling Christmas Eve services (which just seemed inconceivable to me). The choir room was indeed still coming up, so that was good. We got word from the repairman that the part for the basement furnace was not available. Bummer.
What I thought would be a quiet day at home with my family and maybe a good nap before the marathon that is 3 Christmas Eve services turned into phone call after phone call, several trips back and forth monitoring the temperature.
Our first service was to be at 4:30. I went up to the church around 2 to check temps again. This time, the sanctuary smelled like someone had ran a race car through. Burnt oil. I went to the choir room and heard the unmistakable sound of water hitting wet carpet. The sprinkler lines had frozen the day before, unbeknownst to us, and as they thawed when the room got back to a normal temperature, two of them popped. Did you know that sprinkler heads had oil in them? I didn’t, but that explained the smell. I called a member who is a firefighter and he said that I needed to shut down the sprinkler system immediately before there was an even bigger problem. I went to the basement sprinkler room and there were just way too many valves and levers and I had an image in my mind of turning one of those valves only to have water come exploding out and slam me against the wall….IT HAD BEEN A LONG DAY, OK?! I’m man enough to admit I didn’t have the guts to shut it down myself so I called another trustee who’s good with that kind of stuff. He came up to the church and was able to shut it down. This immediately set off the alarm in the building. So I had to get on the phone with the security company to place the alarm in test mode while we called the main sprinkler company to see if they could come out on Christmas Eve.
Somewhere in the middle of all of that I get a text from Brittney that said, “We’re not coming to worship tonight, Evie spiked a fever again.” It seems like we’ve been tossing sicknesses back and forth for several weeks and can’t all seem to be healthy at the same time. Somehow I managed to dodge this round of flu by the sheer grace of God because Pastor’s CANNOT get sick on Christmas week.
I remember thinking, “I’ve spent all day away from my family, it’s cold in here, the sprinkler heads are leaking and I’ve got to preach 3 times! This is not what I thought today would be!” I even said out loud to one of the trustees, “Christmas in the trenches,” channeling my inner Kevin. I was waging a battle not against flesh and blood, but against powers of nature beyond my control in sickness and bitter cold. And I was fixing to say Bah Humbug to the whole thing.
Then I got a text from another church member. “I have been praying for you all week. I know today will be exhausting for you and will take you away from family for most of the day. Thank you for all you do to serve others selflessly on this day.”
Remember when the grinches heart grew two sizes? That’s exactly what happened to me. We were going to figure out the heat and get people in the Church to worship and it was going to be awesome!
An emergency crew came from over an hour away to fix the sprinkler system and alarm. They were incredible guys, working around our Christmas services the busyness in the building. The sanctuary temp came up to 67 which is just about where we keep it on a Sunday morning.
People started flooding into the building. Eager to celebrate Christmas Eve. But I was still exhausted. I missed my family. I wanted to do my preacher thing, but I didn’t know if I had anything left in the tank after a Christmas in the trenches.
Then the lights went down and the video opener started. It was a video I had made with one of our teens. We took the concept from another church that had done it years ago, but she made it her own!
How can a whole world be waiting and not even know it?
As God’s creating the perfect plan and just waiting to show it.
A star hung in the sky and just below it the most unlikely gift.
Given in a most unexpected way.
The fullness of God laying in hay….a day that changed everything.
A virgin girl giving birth to a boy, no….a king.
And they bring him gifts of gold…sing him praise, extolled him because he displays the answers to prophecies foretold before his days….he has come.
Let it be known, little boy play your drum, pa rum pum pum pum, let it be shown the Son of God is here.
Draw near to his people so incline your ear to hear the good news.
A baby boy laying in a manger. A mere stranger to this earth would save us from the danger of our sin but it started at his birth, he birthed hope into this world and proved to us our worth.
This infant…worth more than prizes offered by kings because simply in coming he offered us everything.
And we don’t just remember what was, but celebrate Him.
Distinctly one, yet distinctly three, most holy.
King of glory, lamb of God, Redeemer, friend, first and last, alpha and omega, light of the world, Prince of Peace, Lord of Lords, King of Kings, name above all names. Messiah. Savior. Promise fulfilled. Emmanuel. God with us. Bright and morning star, the great I am…You ARE the Christ.
The giver of life, He is Jesus. And he has come.
That’s when I had a thought. Yes, it had been a Christmas in the trenches. But Emmanuel was with me in the trench. He was right alongside me fighting the battles, there in my feelings of isolation and exhaustion, and He was certainly with my sick baby and family at home.
As we prepared to light candles, I relayed a bit of this story to the folks that had gathered at each of the three services to demonstrate the coming of our Christ…that light shines in the darkness and the darkness has not overcome it!
Christmas has always been in the trenches. It has always been messy.
Max Lucado captures this perfectly in God Came Near:
“The stable stinks like all stables do. The stench of urine, dung, and sheep reeks pungently in the air. The ground is hard, the hay scarce. Cobwebs cling to the ceiling and a mouse scurries across the dirt floor. A more lowly place of birth could not exist… (This is)… Majesty in the midst of the mundane. Holiness in the filth of sheep manure and sweat. Divinity entering the world on the floor of a stable, through the womb of a teenager and in the presence of a carpenter.”
Christmas has always been in the trenches. It has always been messy. But that’s what makes Christmas so great. We’re always in the trenches. We’re pretty messy. And Jesus enters right into that mess and says, “I’m here. Let’s do this together.”
So I know it’s a couple of days after Christmas Day, but as my more liturgically-minded friends would remind us, Christmas isn’t over until the Magi show up on January 6. So no matter what your trench is, no matter how messy it all feels, remember that He is STILL Emmanuel, God-with-us.
The light shines in the darkness and the darkness has not overcome it. Merry Christmas, indeed. Especially to those down in the trenches.