Ten years ago, as a recent seminary graduate, I thought I knew the Christmas story frontward and backward. I did not, it turns out, know how to share this story of Jesus’ blessed birth without almost burning the church down.
To be fair, who knew oranges were flammable?
Surely you’ve heard of Christingles by now. No? The best description I’ve found is as follows: “Children are given this weird orange-based thing, then there is or is not a fire-related incident, and then Silent Night is sung.”
Somehow 10 years ago, in my novel-is-always-good leadership days, I thought a weird orange-based thing out of Moravia sounded wonderful! It sure beat having to force children into sheep, shepherd and magi costumes. (I’m a daughter of a drama professor, so I have PTSD, also known as Parent in Theater Stress Disorder.)
It was going to be perfect. People could come to the church early, make their Christingles, the church would smell like citrus, and the children could process in with their lit oranges.
What could possibly go wrong?
It turns out, everything. We weren’t even half way through the opening hymn, “O come, all ye faithful,” when I heard the first pop and crackle. Sure enough, the candles had already burned down, the flame had caught the paper wrapped around the base of the candle (TERRIBLE IDEA), and one by one all 50 oranges began to go up in flames. I panicked as any good leader should not do in that situation.
Lucky for me, the high school son of the fire chief was my co-worship leader that evening. (If seminary didn’t convince me of Divine Providence, I became acquainted with him that night.) Over the next five minutes, Joe repeatedly walked up to the communion table to put out the fires one by one. I don’t even remember how he did it; all I know is that Joe turned into Jesus incarnate for me that night. He literally saved Christmas, one flaming orange at a time.
Fast forward 10 years and I find myself sticking incense into oranges (much safer!) as I nervously prepare for another Advent season. There are so many disasters and near-disasters unfolding, sometimes right in front of us, in our very homes and lives. Today’s fires of sexual abuse and harassment, racism, discrimination, economic inequalities, sexism, and the degradation of nature are too much to bear at times, and Joe, I mean Jesus, is nowhere to be found, or so it seems. I continue to wonder how we might share this story of Jesus’ blessed birth meaningfully in the presence of so much real and metaphorical fire, ash and smoke.
The hope I still cling to is that Jesus came into this world and showed the world what God’s love incarnate is and could yet be in the midst of all disasters, whether natural or human made or both. That is what I will think on as we join in singing “O come, all ye faithful” this year and hopefully NOT this hymn written in honor of fools like me.
Christingle hymn from Ship of fools.com
See the advent candles, standing in a ring
What a pretty sight; they show us Christmas is coming
Lucky Lucy gets to strike a match upon the box,
All at once its head cones off and sets fire to her socks
See the flames lead upwards! Lucy goes berserk
We bring a fire extinguished, oh dear! it does not work
Everyone is shouting, rushing to and fro
Pretty soon the church becomes a total inferno
See the bishop blazing! listen to the choir
They can sing much louder now, that they are on fire
The fire brigade are coming now, down the street they dash
What a pity nothing’s left except for lots of ash
But what a jolly time we had, watching smoke and flame
It was so much fun that we must come to church again.