December 23 today. It's a good number. In that part of my brain where numbers (pitches, too) have personalities and preferences, 2 and 3 get on well together. They're good friends, even-odd neighbors whoadd neatly up to five, a handful, half-ten.
December 23rd is the almost-deadline day, when stores are busy with people who know what they want and people who don't. I waited in line at Walgreen's, at Bed Bath and Beyond, and at the grocery store. Patiently, because really, that was all I had to do. I've got things to do tomorrow, but not too many. None of them involve going to a store. None of them will make me crazy.
I don't keep track of near as many things as I once did in preparation for Christmas. My children are grown and I no longer keep a running tally of the number of packages per child in my head. It no longer has to come out even. (Hope I'm not wrong about this.) Maybe some Christmas in the future I'll bake twelve or fourteen kinds of cookies again, have a party, or make new quilted table runners or new ornaments. This year it's enough to have a tree and a creche and to be cooking food to bring to other people's houses.
Even theologically I'm looking for a simpler Christmas. No wrapping my amazement around paradoxes of faith this year: God made man; wooden mangers and wooden crosses; angels singing for lowly shepherds; wise men bringing myrrh for graveclothes. There is exercise for the mind and soul in these things, and they're good practice for life. Things will be turned inside out and all around from time to time. It's good to have some experience with tracing those paths in the story of Jesus and recognizing the power of God in the surprises. Because, well, life.
But just like baking and shopping and wrapping, it doesn't have to be that complicated. In the Christmas story there's a baby, born in the middle of the night in a lowly place, held in his mother's arms, nourished at her breast. Her breath caresses his brow, her touch lets him know it's good to be here, on this earth, where love matters more than sin and sorrow.