The song may say that "It's the Most Wonderful Time of the Year," but I have spent a fair amount of time over the last couple of days talking with friends, mostly clergy, who are pretty stressed out. For the church, this is the time in which three huge aspects of the life of the parish come together in almost a perfect storm: the end of the stewardship campaign for next year (about which there is anxiety - pledges are down, or pledges are still not in yet, or we have what we are going to get and it's not enough); the end of the calendar year for this year (about which there is anxiety - are we going to make budget? Will people catch up their pledges? Will this be the year we don't have a big finish?); and Advent/Christmas with its many programs and events and liturgies and worries about all the coordination between and among clergy, altar guild, parish staff, musicians, children's choirs, flower guild, extra readers, eucharistic ministers. Of course, there are sermons to write and bulletins to proof. And there are parties, and those unplanned but perhaps not unexpected funerals and other events going on within the parish that demand pastoral attention. And if we have children ourselves all the seasonal concerts and performances and decorating our own homes and writing notes to gift givers and I could go on and on but I suspect you get the picture.
Since I'm not the rector of a parish, I am not caught in this maelstrom right now (although I do have a lingering bad cold that is dampening my spirits in a big way), but many of my friends are.
Of course, clergy are hardly the only ones stressed out at this time. True stories I've heard this week: Parents with young children are dealing with the onset of the cold and flu season in addition to the holiday activities and perhaps worries about childcare during the holidays. In this economic climate, many people are worried about how to make ends meed at all, much less put on Christmas. People with elderly parents are juggling multiple generations of family life with getting Mom to those doctors' appointments or getting calls from the retirement home or hospital that Dad wandered off the floor and was lost for a few hours.
And as the weather has begun to dip below freezing at night even here in the sunny south, there are people living out on the streets who are crowding into the shelters if they are lucky and huddling in tiny spaces under the interstate overpasses if they are not.
There is a verse - my favorite verse, but one that doesn't show up in all the versions, in the beautiful Christmas hymn "It Came Upon a Midnight Clear" that sums up the state of humanity:
O ye beneath life's crushing load,
Whose forms are bending low,
Who toil along the climbing way
With painful steps and slow;
Look now, for glad and golden hours
Come swiftly on the wing;
Oh rest beside the weary road
And hear the angels sing.
Let us pray for those who are bending under life's crushing load this Advent. Oh rest beside the weary road, and hear the angels sing.