Thursday, December 24, 2015

On Christmas Eve

On Christmas Eve, my husband and I will awaken our three children a few hours after we have put them to bed. We will wrap them in fleece blankets, buckle them into their car seats, and drive to the First Christian Church on Maxwell Street.

There, our 5 year-old son will promptly fall back to sleep on the meager cushion of a cold, hard church pew, our 3 year-old daughter will vibrate with the excitement and novelty of this strange night-time adventure, and our 15 month-old daughter will doggedly try to escape my grasp so that she can run up and down the red, thickly-carpeted aisles because it is a general rule of thumb that if she is awake, she is moving.

After settling into the semi-darkness of our towering, candle-lit sanctuary, a guitar will start gently strumming and the voices of dozens of people will join in Christmas carols. In between the songs, we will read from the sacred texts of Matthew and Luke, the story of our God taking on human flesh, becoming the fragile infant Jesus in our broken and dangerous world.

About ten minutes before midnight, all of the congregants will line up in the center aisle and slowly move forward to take their turn receiving the bread that is the body of Christ broken for us and the wine that is the blood of Christ spilled for us.

Once filled, each sleepy worshipper will receive a candle in a small plastic cup whose humble job it is to protect our lush carpet from drops of wax. With our candles in hand, we will line the edges of our sanctuary, and my husband, the minister, will take the largest candle on our Advent table, the Christ candle. He will use the Christ candle to light a person’s candle on each side of the church. Those of us on the edges will share that flame until our sanctuary is surrounded with the light of Christ. And then, with the delicate glow of candlelight flickering across our faces, we will sing “Silent Night.” As the last note fades, we will blow out our candles, re-bundle the children, and drive back to our beds.  

Over 2000 years ago, humanity was going about its business with its long-established rhythm. People were born, they grew up, they worked and struggled, they had families of their own, they died. Nations rose, they warred, they ruled, they fell. And then a baby was born, and he interrupted everything. He changed the way we do and think about the menial parts of our lives because we suddenly knew that God himself had lived a human life; he reframed the very concept of power by showing that greater power can lie within an infant than in a nation; and he gave life in a world filled with death.

Christmas Eve is a busy day. It is filled with good things: gift wrapping, last-minute shopping, cooking, spending time with family. But I would encourage everyone in the spirit of the great interruption that was the birth of Christ to interrupt your Christmas Eve with one of the many Christmas Eve services held in churches all over Ardmore. The First Christian Church holds ours at 11:00 in the evening, but several others are held earlier in the day.

If you do attend, you will likely be stunned with the impact of the event captured in the nativity scene in your living room. While you hear the Scriptures read, look at the infants held in the arms of the mothers around you; our God was once that vulnerable. While you sing the sacred songs, look at all the ordinary people whose voices are filling the church; God entrusted mere humans to raise the once-infant Jesus into adulthood. And when you go to take communion, look at the trembling hands of the elderly people taking their portions; Jesus was born so that death would not be the end of their stories.

Allow all of the significance of the Christmas Eve service to emanate into your Christmas day. Let it enrich the gift giving, the gift receiving, the fellowship with family and friends, the rich food and the even richer traditions. And with this deepened perspective, may you have a blessed and merry Christmas.

2 comments:

lp said...

Beautiful. Love you daughter.

Mom

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