By Tom Ehrich

I grew up in a household where Christmas was a time of frenzy (my father's business), beautiful music (school, church), and tasteful decorations (my mother's touch).

I was spared the seasonal sadness and sourness that many feel as they contemplate broken families, broken promises and broken lives.

In my parish pastor years, I saw the sadness and sourness up close. If anything could go wrong in someone's life, Christmas was the season for it. People brought their needs to church, sometimes directly in weeping, anger and hunger for love, and sometimes indirectly in various forms of acting out, often against me.

By the time we doused the candles on Christmas Day, I was physically exhausted and emotionally spent. Later, at the family Christmas dinner, I tried to mask my churning and fatigue. I doubt I succeeded.

In my current work, Christmas feels like a time of waiting. I have two major publishing projects that are ready to launch in January. My consulting schedule will resume then, too. For now, telephone and email are quiet.

I don't mind the quiet. Freed from the unreasonable demands that some people bring to church at this season, I can listen to Christmas music for what it is: gentle, hopeful.

In this window of peace, we put up our tree a week earlier than usual. Gift-buying doesn't feel crammed into a last-minute flurry.

I think God is in all these moments: in the frenzy, in the acting out, in the brokenness, in the beauty and in the peace. I think God simply wants things to be better for us -- and better through us.

As crazy as church people could get at Christmas, I knew I was called to take it, to sit with them, to give them a safe space for acting out their brokenness.

There is no single cake mold for Christmas. There is just our humanity, in its many glories and distortions, reaching out for hope.