The King James Version conveys the painful project of emptying a home: "Then shalt thou bring forth thy stuff by day in their sight, as stuff for removing." This Ezekiel 12:4 passage is rendered drably, "Bring out your belongings" in the New International Version. No doubt we need contemporary translations of ancient Scripture. But I do miss some of the older, more lively language.
I serve as pastor to a small congregation in one of the "beach" communities ringing Jamaica Bay in New York City. As the community reeled from the effects of Hurricane Sandy, there was a mind-numbing parade of ruined belongings being brought out and dragged to the curb. The storm surge destroyed all the cars, the contents of many first floors, and every family's basement. Through the early weeks of the calamity, the waves of fear and shock made it difficult to gauge the depths of trauma and possible long-term effects. It wasn't until the fourth week that I slowly began to hear people saying, one by one, "Oh, well, it's only stuff."
Admittedly, piled all together, it is one big mound of expensive stuff. But, only stuff. Some of the more spirited folks found colorful adjectives to place between only and stuff. But, still, it was only "stuff for removing." And I thought, how biblical. Gradually, a healing sense of perspective was emerging.
But then came Christmas — and the realization that some stuff was special, sacred stuff. No one mourns a lost emotional bond with their hot water heater. But grandmother's antique angel Christmas ornament? Some stuff is not merely stuff.
There was a lovely Christmas Day editorial, "Unpacking Christmas," in The New York Times. It noted tenderly how people cherish "the ritual of going through the decorations that have gathered over time. Each year the Christmas archive is unpacked again. And with this unpacking, generations of family bonds and religious sentiment are stirred. Some stuff is sacred stuff.
Yet sacred stuff gets stored in the basement alongside the "only stuff," hot water heaters, washers and dryers. And it all gets dragged to the curb in one big soggy mess.
Still, the Christmas story of Emanuel — God with us — pours forth from Luke in all its lustrous glory, no matter which translation. And redeemed is the stuff of the world, the stuff we are made of, the stuff in the basement, grandmother's stuff. All stuff is placed in perspective of eternity, beloved of a Love Supreme. It is all sacred. Nothing "only" about it.
© 2014 Augsburg Fortress, Publishers