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December 12, 2006
This is one of those years -- Christmas Eve falls on a Sunday, which is also the Fourth Sunday of Advent. That combination makes for some heavy church, let me tell you.

Different people do different things. Most parishes take a deep breath and do what they would do on any Fourth Advent -- the usual number of services on a Sunday morning. Then they break for lunch and come back for the whole nine yards of Christmas Eve. Other places take a more humane approach: combine the Sunday morning services into one, make it Lessons and Carols for a little change of pace, and then go on into the Christmas Eve marathon from there. The altar guild, the choir, the clergy, the beleaguered secretary, the steady sexton: they earn their keep when Christmas Eve falls on Sunday.

Of course, in most parishes, most of these folks don't have any keep to earn. They serve out of love alone. I always marveled at that when I was a parish priest: I worked hard, and I got really tired. But so did many, many others, and almost none of them got a window envelope at the end of the month, as I did. Almost all of them came to the church for a meeting still in their business clothes, after a long day's work. I was as faithful a priest as I knew how to be. But those folks: now, that was faithful.

And it was fun, as much work as it all was. Oh, yes -- the silly, irreverent jokes in the sacristy about our own exhaustion. The storied embarrassments of Christmases past: Remember when you forgot to carry the Christ Child in and had to go back to the sacristy and get Him? Yeah, well, remember when you spilled a full chalice of red wine on the fair linen? And remember when the acolyte set the holly on fire? The remarkable feeling of a sermon flowing right out of my fingertips onto the page, in just the amount of time that was the only amount of time I had to get it done: a miracle. I read those old sermons now, in the faded bumpy Courier font that was my manual typewriter's only trick. And I read my father's longhand ones, older still. Some of our efforts were better than others, I see. But still, we got it all done, didn't we, Dad?

And when the last carol has been sung, the last performance of the anthem is over, the last sermon is preached, when the wax is mostly gone from the carpet except for a few spots you'll deal with tomorrow, when you can cross the street and go up the walk into your own house -- ah! Nothing could be sweeter.

I suppose there is such a thing as overwork. People tell me I am guilty of it and, since so many people say it, it must be true. But every single thing in my overloaded basket is a thing I love. And I think that having to search for things with which to fill one's time and to care about must be a great sorrow.
A new columnist joins the Farm: look in Events for Alexander MacPhail's "Delusional Minutiae: A Celebration of Complete Insignificance."
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