This is our first Christmas together, and I cannot tell you how excited I am for Christmas Eve. Every year, there are two moments I most look forward to at Christmas. One is my daughters coming down the stairs on Christmas morning, pausing for a picture, then slowly making their way to see what magic transpired under the tree. The other is singing “Silent Night, Holy Night,” as the lights are slowly turned down and the candles are lit in the sanctuary on Christmas Eve night.
I know that Easter is supposed to be the big day. Singing “Christ the Lord is Risen Today” with the throngs and the organ and the lilies and the spring air at Easter is pretty special, but it is Christmas that touches my heart like no other. I know that Christmas is wrought with commercialism, consumerism, and a secularity that some mourn. Maybe that is why that moment is so special to me. It is so needed. It is that moment where nothing matters but joy. I can block out the noise and the fear and the distractions. Sure, “Silent Night,” has helped contribute to a falsely idyllic understanding of Christmas, but I’m okay with that. It is a song that can end war, even if only for a moment.
I get a pretty special view for Christmas Eve. I get to stand up front and look out at the faces of those gathered. I can close my eyes and see it through the years. I can picture each of the congregations I’ve had the awesome honor to serve. I can see the faces of those who have supported me, shaped me, challenged me, and molded me into the man and pastor that I am today. I can see the faces of young and old, woman and man, single and married, healthy and sick.
I can see the faces of people lit by the glow of a small candle as we sing those holy words, and I’m very much looking forward to singing it with you. We haven’t been together very long, but things are going well. No church is perfect, but I believe that I am right where I need to be. Already we’ve laughed and cried together. Already we’ve dreamed of a Kingdom future, and mourned the loss of pillars. Already we’ve eaten too much, shared some of our scars, worried a little, and stumbled through some movements. Already I can see the excitement and the energy. I can see good things happening. I can see people being fed without asking first if they deserve it. I can see invitation that is born from joy, not fear. I can see welcome. I can see grace, and a desire to share lives, not just small talk and pleasantries. I can see the Body of Christ, redeemed by Christ’s love, reaching out into the world.
Incarnation. That is what Christmas is all about. It is the coming of light in a world of darkness. It is God breaking through all of the barriers. It is strength and power and might redefined in the form of a newborn baby. Christmas is peace, love, joy, and hope. And just as that candle spreads from the table in the sanctuary to those that are singing in the pews, Christmas is the light of Christ spreading into the hearts of the faithful, and being carried out into the world. It is not about “happily ever after.” It is about the presence of God in the midst of real life.
It is a reminder that right here in the world is a promise that God is with us. Right here with the cancer is hope. Right here with the struggle and upheaval is peace. Right here in the gathering of Christ’s people is joy. Right here with our fellow humans, hurting, sinning, and falling, is love.
So I’m waiting for Christmas Eve, and not altogether patiently. I’m waiting to wish you a Merry Christmas, and to see your face lit by the glow of a candle. It’s my favorite time of year, and I’m so glad we can do this together.