December 24, 2010 | The Rev. Dr. Scott Stoner
"Making Christmas Tracks"
My wife and I took the train to Chicago yesterday from our home in Milwaukee to visit some dear friends of thirty-one years for a wonderful pre-Christmas lunch. Old friends, or “long time friends” as we now prefer to call ourselves, are the best. We enjoy the ninety minute train trip to Chicago, and there is no easier way to travel between these two cities. On the way home however, we had a bit of a surprise. The conductor came on the intercom and announced in a rather serious tone that everyone had to be seated because the train would soon be switching tracks and we could expect a “bumpy ride” for a minute or two. Soon we were switching on to a different track at a rather high rate of speed, and sure enough the ride was fairly bumpy for a short while, but overall it was a great ride and we will no doubt be riding the train again soon to Chicago.
I received an email from a different friend a few weeks ago who wrote about how this Christmas was going to be a “bumpy ride” for his extended family due to both a recent death in the family and a recent fight between two of his siblings. He even used a railroad metaphor to describe what he felt was happening. He said that he felt like his family had “come off the track” and he didn’t see any way they were going to get things “back on track” before Christmas.
This time of year, perhaps more than any other, we tend to have high expectations of how we want things to go. In our hearts and in our minds, we create mental “tracks” of how we want everything to proceed and how we want everyone to behave. If everyone would simply hitch their “cars” to the engine of our desires and follow us down the tracks we have created in our hearts and minds, then we would all avoid a bumpy ride and Christmas would be just the way it is supposed to be. But this is real life, not the magical fantasy of the “Polar Express,” and all of us, in both our personal lives, and in our most important relationships, regularly find ourselves “off track.”
Railroads of course did not exist 2000 years ago when Jesus was born. But if you will allow me to stay with the railroad metaphor, we can think of the world that Jesus was born into as being a world that had become woefully off track. It was a world characterized by greed, self-interest, fear and violence, a world not unlike our own. Jesus came not so much to get the world “back on track,” but instead came to show us how to build new tracks, tracks grounded in love and grace, rather than fear and self-protection.
So if, like my friend, you are feeling like things have “come off track,” maybe it’s best to not even think about how to get them back on track, but instead put your efforts it to building some new tracks. The stories of Christmas, both sacred and secular (think of Ebenezer Scrooge, for example), are filled with people building new tracks, tracks that lead them into a direction of greater love and joy.
I will be taking time off after Christmas--building some new tracks of relaxation, recreation and reconnection with family and friends--and so will take a break from this column until the New Year. I wish you all a Merry Christmas and Happy New Year and if you will be gathering with friends and family, I hope you will look for opportunities to lay down some new tracks together.
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