On Christmas Eve, as I placed a piece of bread in a man’s hands, he gripped my arm and said, “29 years of sobriety. Thank you.”
Normally, the communion ritual is mute, except for the words of administration. “The body of Christ, the bread of heaven.” Sometimes the recipient says only, “Amen.” So be it. But on Christmas Eve people often say, softly, “Merry Christmas,” or “Thank you.” Some older people, who are like mothers and fathers to me, say, “Love you” with a wink or smile.
But this year two people spoke of addiction and grace. The man who spoke of his 29 years, and a woman who whispered, “I’m in A.A. Thank you.”
In my homily I had spoken of the Christmas message—who hears it, and who misses it.
Though I wish it weren’t so, we are more open to hear and receive the message of Christmas when we feel afraid or lost or desperate. People who have all the answers, who are sitting pretty, in the catbird seat, have life all tamed and in order: they cannot hear the message of Christmas, which is, “Unto you is born this day, a savior.” Because in all honesty they are not particularly in need of saving.
God knows, I said, that we are open for divine incursion only when we have run out of options and the gig is up; when we are desperate.
This is why AA, why the Twelve Step program was among the greatest spiritual breakthroughs of the last century. Because it taught untold millions that “hitting bottom” is—miraculously—a trapdoor into to freedom, grace and blessing. The way up is the way down.
As people left church, another woman—a visitor to St. Luke’s—said, “You were speaking to me. I have lost my job, my house is in foreclosure, but, thank God, I have gotten into A.A.” She was so happy.
I always find it curious and wonderful, that when you speak about desperation and new life, this secret little underground set of people will just say a word in quiet, will let you know they’ve been to hell and found a way to live again. They don’t make a big deal. Anonymity and humility are what keep them on the path, one day at a time. They just nod and let you know they know.
What they know, of course, is that they need a lot of help, a lot of saving. That’s their left-handed blessing. This Christmas I went home wishing for that blessing, praying to be eligible for amazing grace, hoping for the grace to rejoice in the angels’ proclamation, that unto me is born this day a savior.