The Senior Pastor's wife (who is also a pastor) has been recounting her first call as an Associate Pastor over and over and over again to me in the past few weeks. It has been annoying, but she actually helped me yesterday. She remarked that she feels sorry for those that don't get to be in the pastor's role on Christmas and Easter. As pastors, we get to experience something that others don't. We are (as she says) "right in the thick of it" where everyone else is "on the fringe." I wanted to remark that it's probably the reverse actually as pastors don't get to truly worship in quite the same way. We are concerned that little Joanna is able to reach the lecturn to read the Fifth Lesson and making sure that the mic is on for the lighting of the Christ candle. We don't close our eyes while we pray on behalf of the congregation, but look to see how our words are echoing with the hearts of those that gathered with us this night.
But then, it happened. Kinda like the Word of God. It happened again. As we sang "Silent Night" and the chior carried their candles out of the sanctuary, I watched as the only light in this sacred space walked out. No one in the pews noticed, I suspect. But, the light of Christ went out of this space and into the world. It happened. I saw it.
And so we can sing that mysterious verse that echoes with every emotion I have at Christmas:
O little town of Bethlehem, how still we see thee lie!
Above thy deep and dreamless sleep the silent stars go by.
Yet in thy dark streets shineth the everlasting Light;
The hopes and fears of all the years are met in thee tonight.
It's those hopes and fears that I think prevent us from seeing the miracle of Christmas. So ready? Here is what I have learned in the few hours I have spent on my first Christmas away from family. The past few years, I have found myself disappointed by Christmas. The miracle never happened. I never felt the transformation. And I wanted it. I wanted that miracle to arrive. But, my expectations were all over the place. It had to be big. It had to be God Incarnate. It had to be... well, you get the picture. As a child, it always happened. My favorite Christmas celebrations were spent in Long Island in my great aunt's home. In the back room that overlooks the canal, the entire extended family would gather on Christmas morning. And without fail, the miracle happened. I have no idea what caused it. I don't know if it was the mound of presents that erupted under that tiny tree for all 22 of us or if it was the fact that we were all together. I don't know what caused the miracle. But, it always happened. In recent years, I have not felt this miracle in the same way. Maybe family has changed. Maybe we started fighting too much.
But, on this first Christmas without my beloved family, I realize that my hopes and fears never allowed for the simplicity of the child to come. It didn't need to be big. I just needed to see God right there ushering in yet another miracle like a beautiful (though snowless day). Another day where peace might be possible. Another day where love will be shared. Another day where joy is omnipresent. And all of this revealed in the simplicity of a child. And so we sing:
What Child is this who, laid to rest
On Mary’s lap is sleeping?
Whom angels greet with anthems sweet,
While shepherds watch are keeping?
This, this is Christ the King,
Whom shepherds guard and angels sing;
Haste, haste, to bring Him laud,
The Babe, the Son of Mary.