On Christmas Eve, for the first time in many years, I simply attended worship. As I sat waiting for the service to begin, I couldn’t help but see the many servants who make worship happen. They unfolded chairs for the overflow crowd, hurried outside to make last minute preparations, and turned up the sound to ensure we could all hear the scripture speak. They are the ones who rehearsed many hours that the music of Christmas might lift us. And they are the ones we don’t see–unless we hang around awhile–who clean up the sanctuary after the celebration ends.
They are the ones who are willing to sacrifice family time to make Christmas Eve glorious for the family of faith they don’t see as often.
The infamous Scrooge contrasted the life of a lonely man to that of a family man (Bob Cratchit). It contrasted wealth with love. The spirits showed Scrooge what could have been if he had been generous, not let his past define him, and sought love instead of money. He too could have known love…he still can. It is within his power to give. And, because of Cratchit, it is within his realm to receive.
Christmas is often cast in such Dickensian images. A family sharing a meal together is the image of American Christmas celebrations. Many are moved to give to the needy, to share from their wealth a gift that someone might not feel forgotten or miss the holiday meal. And, as much as we want to complain about shopping centers, many of us enjoy choosing and wrapping gifts to put under our own trees, wanting to give to those we love something that makes them smile. Might we even admit to enjoying the moment when we get to tear open a gift or two, having a new toy with which to play?
I like all these things. But what I most missed this year was hanging out with the church servants who keep the candles lit. They aren’t paid to be there, they just are. You might want to picture them as elderly, but in churches that are most alive, all ages of people gather long before Christmas Eve worship begins. These servants wrap their gifts, go to malls, and make sure there is a meal on their family table. But these things are done around their faith commitment. Their table decorations may not be as fancy as those who use the entire day to prepare. But they don’t mind. While many people fit church into their Christmas Eve plans, these are the faithful people who choose to make Christmas Eve plans around their commitment to welcome in those who are seeking the Christ.
And not just on Christmas Eve….
It is tough. Many of you have heard me say it is easy to fill a day. Jesus intrudes. It is much harder to plan a perfect meal when you are taking the time to act on your prayers. Jesus gets in the way because he believes we are meant to do ever so much more than Ebenezer Scrooge.
When I read the scripture that I will preach on next Sunday (Laguna Beach Neighborhood Congregational Church, 340 St. Ann’s Dr., 10 a.m.), I recognize Simeon as one of these faithful people who I’ve been privileged to know over the years. He is one who is moved by something more powerful than images of ghosts.
“Now there was a man in Jerusalem whose name was Simeon; this man was righteous and devout, looking forward to the consolation of Israel, and the Holy Spirit rested on him.”
He believed that there could be a way forward for the broken nation he lived within. He was devout, choosing the way of faith. He was righteous, not self righteous, but one who worked at finding the right way.
“Guided by the Spirit, Simeon came into the temple; and when the parents brought in the child Jesus, to do for him what was customary under the law, Simeon took him in his arms and praised God…”
Before I wrote today I read two of my favorite current writers, a Congregationalist pastor and a Franciscan monk. While their messages differed, their tone was the same. Although they have been working at living this faith longer than I have, there was no hint of cynicism when they spoke of the birth of Jesus. After many years, they still enter into the awe and wonder. “Don’t let us spoil it,” says one.
They made me think, if there is something that gives Christ’s people their spark, it is that they don’t spoil it! They allow the wonder that is Jesus’ grand entrance to intrude again and again, arms open, ready to receive that which God has sent. And, so I pray may each of us be granted—no, may each of us work–to keep such faith alive!