Wednesday, December 31, 2008

Christmas Eve Revisited

For clergy Christmas Eve is generally hectic. There has to be more than just one sermon for the week. We have our presents to buy and wrap. Some of us have family to see after. But when it comes to the actual service, the liturgy is quite magical. Candles enhance faces to the almost glowing. Familiar carols mean full-voiced singing from the congregation and Lutherans sing lustily as a general course. You can imagine what it is like when everyone knows the hymns! You feel the music rather than hear it!

This year I have enough familiarity now with the Lutheran rite that I could be relaxed as we began the service. The church was full—extra seats had to be unfolded. There were lots of kids to process to the crèche with.

Looking out on the congregation I realized that one family home to grandma and grandpa’s for the holiday took up three rows of seats. Another family took up four. By the time we got to Silent Night there was standing room only. Following the 7:30 service—mid-night mass is not generally practiced by small Lutheran congregations—there was a coffee hour. Kids who had grown up in the parish found Sunday school companions from 30 years before and caught up on what they were doing now. It was class reunion at its best. Children met their parents school chums. They stayed until 10:30 catching up and enjoying their youth through Christmas eyes. It was church at its best.

Most of our parishes are like this in upstate NY. We are the homes that many have left to find employment in other places. But the church is still “home”. Many thanked me for the service, but they had “built” the service many years before. It was deeply internalized even if they no longer attended. The new hymnal and liturgy did not faze them. The changes to the building were taken in and appreciated. There was no pining for what had changed—it was just the being in touch with a reality in their lives that perhaps they had not found anywhere else.

The message of the Incarnation that God is with us and has always been with us is lit in those faces. For all the tensions in the Church, Christmas Eve is the reminder to all of us who live the Church day in and day out that the message is already out there, embedded in the DNA of those who heard the Good News as children.

But the church is not home. It is merely the filling station. It is the place where we practice living the gospel enough so that we can take it to others in our actions. I doubt if anyone cared one hoot if a lesbian was at the altar. I doubt if anyone minded that there were gay folks kneeling next to them at the altar rail. The message was understood: God was there and they could touch him in the Sacrament and see it in the faces of others. That’s enough for me.

Happy New Year!

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