Joanne Anquist: Engaging the Ghosts of Christmas Past and Present

A Christmas Message from Chinook Winds’ Presiding Officer Joanne Anquist

The other day I was brainstorming with my colleague around Christmas Eve Service themes. As I do every year, I returned to my old Orders of Service to see what had been done before. The thing about Christmas Eve is that we know people come to sing carols and hear the story – it doesn’t really matter what the minister says! Even so, the creativity in us is always looking for a new angle to keep things fresh. As I was flipping through old bulletins, nostalgia swept over me – that was so wonderful when we sang this or did that! 

Chinook Winds Regional Council Presiding Officer Rev. Joanne Anquist

  In our ruminations, we decided that we were haunted by the Ghosts of Christmas Past – so Charles Dickens’ A Christmas Carol became the theme for our service this year! (For those of you who aren’t clergy, this is just a peek into the chaotic mind of the minister!) 

     Those Ghosts of Christmas Past, make everything so glossy and gauzy.  Remember when we could count on a full house for three services? Remember when the rafters lifted at our Joy to the World and the organ was turned up to 11?  Wasn’t it fun when all the children were willing to dress up as donkeys or cows to tell the Christmas story?  I’ll never forget my two-year-old son (now 30) who wanted to be a Schweperd!  The Ghosts of Christmas Past…

     Today, as I consider the challenges we face as a church and society, I’m more haunted by the Ghosts of Christmas Present: numbers and donations that are down-impacting ministry decisions; those in our communities who are struggling in this inflationary economy; interest rates on the rise making housing unaffordable for many. If your churches are anything like mine, the requests for Christmas hampers are beyond our capacity. And then there is the social and cultural environment that generates unrest and unease as we become more set and polarized in our affiliations. Add to those the children filling the hospital wards with respiratory illnesses. As well investigations of a series of murders of indigenous women in Winnipeg and graves at residential schools complicate our nation’s struggles toward reconciliation.

      One wonders if anyone can really offer “Merry Christmas” with any kind of enthusiasm.  In A Christmas Carol, the Ghost of Christmas Present reveals two suffering children of humanity: Ignorance and Want.  They are dressed in clothes from a different era, but they are still with us. The Ghosts of Christmas Present…

But our story doesn’t end there – Thank God. And even though we “recycle” so much of our Christmas tradition every year in a nod to the past, and as we are overwhelmed by the suffering and indifference of our present, there is one promise that sustains us: “God With Us.” That promise never gets old. 

      The Light that Shines in the Dark cannot be overcome by the Ghosts of Christmas Past and Present.  “God With Us” calls us to celebrate a Christmas Yet to Come, where hope, peace, joy and love are truly lived.  That’s why we light those Advent candles, that’s why we gather on Christmas Eve, that’s why we sing and feast and remember at the table. We call forth a time that is not yet, because, even in our nostalgia for what was and our struggles in what is, we glimpse a time where sparkly bits of “God With Us” are floating around us if we simply lift our hearts to God. “God With Us” then and now and forever. The Spirit of Christmas Yet to Come…

     Peace on Earth, Good Will to All.  May your hauntings bring you Christmas Clarity that darkness cannot overcome. 

Joanne Anquist
Presiding Officer, Chinook Winds Region
al Council
Joanne is also minister at McDougall United Church, Calgary.