I usually look forward to the holidays, that season between Thanksgiving and New Year’s Day. But when they arrive, I find myself resenting the cultural message within which I am embedded to “shop until you drop.” Beginning with Black Friday, the day after Thanksgiving, I am incessantly reminded to spend money on myself and others. Even the trappings of Christmas, such as carols and Santa and decorated trees, seem intrusive. Isn’t the story about peace and goodwill to all mankind? Why does it feel so frenetic and driven? Does everyone else feel this way also?
This year, we spent Thanksgiving in Angwin, a tradition in our family extending back to 1986. That was the year that Suha’s parents moved to a home on Crestmont Drive with a stunning view of the beautiful Napa Valley. This year we were packing up her parents’ possessions in preparation for selling the home which held so many holiday memories. I don’t mind admitting moments of downright grief at the thought of not coming back to this site.
So the season began with sadness at the thought of loss and discontinuity.
The night after returning home, we attended the 70th Candlelight Concert at La Sierra University Church. I’m not sure why the music and congregation had such an effect on me, but the beauty of the setting and the presence of many festive friends and the music itself left me tearing (as in moist eyes) at transcendence. It seemed that such an occasion could only be made possible by Divinity Itself. Slowly, as the evening progressed, each contribution created layers of emotion that culminated in the last part of the program. “For Unto Us a Child Is Born” was beautifully played and sung. “Glory, Glory to the Newborn King” was astounding. “Cantique de Noel” grabbed my very soul and tenderly held it close. Of course, each year we enjoy the unparalleled “Hallelujah Chorus” from Messiah, with vocal contributions from professionals and the congregation. Finally, Kimo Smith played Bock’s arrangement of “Joy to the World,” in chords so complex and moving that I’m sure at least one of them got lost! Reminders to remain seated during the postlude were quite unnecessary.
Now I’m ready for the holidays! My Advent Surprise is the music we heard that night and the Divine Transcendent reality to which it attested. In the next few days our children will come home, gifts will be exchanged, and (probably) a tree decorated. On the eve of Christmas we will sit quietly together after a hearty meal. The sense of holiday overwhelm will gently recede and 2018 will be quietly born.
Each holiday season is different, shaped by people and unpredictable events unique to each of our lives. This year, for me, it began with sadness at loss with the joy of music dominating the center of the holidays. Who knows for sure how it will end? Whatever emotional flavors are present on December 31, the beautiful music at mid-season in the La Sierra University Church will remain my Advent Surprise.
Gary Huffaker, husband, father, son and retired Kaiser Permanente physician has been a member of the La Sierra University Church since 1983.