If you missed Friday, December 6th issue of the Burlington County Times and are a subscriber you can click the below link to read THE POLAR EXPRESS by Father Chandy.
or you can read it here……
The Polar Express
Images of Christmas flood our thoughts during this time of year. One image remains enduring in my mind: it is that of toy trains circling a Christmas tree. I don’t know when this image became associated with Christmas; but when I see it on advertisements I can’t but help feel nostalgic for a vision of “perfect” Christmases of yester year. This is ironic because being born in India, my experiences of Christmas never included a choo-choo train racing around a tree. For this traumatic absence, I swore to my wife, around the birth of our first child, that there would be a train around a Christmas tree in our home, because that is the way “a proper Christmas” should be done!
As you can see Madison avenue marketing of Christmas was even getting to me, an Episcopal priest! I grew up influenced by Christmas T.V specials and commercials which included the likes of Bing Crosby and David Bowie caroling. The “perfect and proper” Christmas included, of course, food, a loving perfect family, festive decorations and a beautiful tree, with a train.
So each year when my family decorates for Christmas, we put up our tree and train set (we now have three).
But, to be honest, I have found the search for creating a perfect Christmas is a daunting and unachievable task, which ends up creating a great deal of frustration. One year I remember arguing with my teenage kids and wife regarding the merits of live versus artificial trees. The argument was so intense that I finally threw up my hands and said “Ok if you want artificial, then you’re going to have to set it up without me.” I then went to sulk alone in my office as my three boys (even the youngest, at the time 7 years old) struggled to bring up the tree from the basement. I could hear my wife helping them while my eldest turned on Christmas music. The middle one began to set up the train . As they talked and laughed, I realized that I was missing all the fun. Eventually, the Grinche in me disappeared and I went to join in the fun. And yes, I had to apologize. When I saw the tree that the kids set up with their mother, I was surprised! They did a beautiful job! without fighting with each other! I learned that year that Christmas is not about my vision of perfection but it is about enjoying and sharing the moments with loved ones in this most spectacular holiday.
It can be easy to lose perspective during this busy season. The pace, the marketing, the good intensions contribute to making us feel like we are on a locomotive—a train that is comprised of a boxcar of activity, driven by an engine of anxiety, and followed by a caboose filled with frustration. This unhealthy pace can rob us from the feelings of hope and joy to which this season points. Sometimes, I imagine there are really two trains we could take as we prepare for this season. They both start around the beginning of December. They both include some of the same stops along the way, as we prepare and shop. And as we draw closer to Christmas Day, there is a crescendo feeling that we all seem to have (the trains seem to go faster and there is a feeling of excitement). But train one leads us to a destination of an imagined perfect Christmas—an ideal that is kept alive by all the marketing of the season. Once you arrive, though, the destination is found empty but certainly filled with more activity (cleaning up and getting staged for the next holiday high). Then there is another train, which often stops at the same places as train one, but the destination of this train is a manger—not just any manger, but the wooden food box in which was laid a young mother’s baby about 2000 years ago—where animals stand in reverential awe and a proud father looks on. The air is cold, the plains rocky. One can sense the possibility of joy is separated from frustration and despair by only a thin veil. At this stop, the world is far from perfect. But it is here that we see the image of a family, coming together around a promise of a child that is the hope to transform a dark world. At this stop, there is the love of a family, which will include not only the animals, but also shepherds, wise men and even angels. In this imperfect image of Christmas, there is love and hope in the moment and for the future. If we keep this image before us as we prepare for the Christmas season we may find a peace and joy that will last much longer than a day- maybe even an eternity?
This Christmas ask yourselves which train am I on? If you are on the wrong train, you can always switch to another.
The Reverend Sunil K. Chandy
St. Andrew’s Episcopal Church
121 High St.
Mount Holly, NJ 08060