November 18, 2022
Dear Disciple of Christ,
It is almost here, isn’t it? The season of Advent is almost upon us (starting the Sunday after Thanksgiving, November 27th) and we will turn our attention to the coming of Christ. Would I be wrong to suggest that if you’re thinking of doing that (going to worship to celebrate His birth), you’ll likely be doing it on Christmas Eve? There are many beautiful aspects of a Christmas Eve service with the carols and the lights and the gathered community. Even churches with few regular Sunday worshipers are likely to be “fuller” on this night of nights. Even those disciples who do not worship very often are likely to attend church on Christmas Eve, perhaps even more than on Easter. It is always a pastor’s hope that these special services will be the beginning of the return of the sheep to the Shepherd.
And the impact of that Christmas Eve crowds will be evident on Christmas Day when far fewer Christmas worshipers will be in church. That is the “norm” and in fact, there are many churches that don’t have any Christmas day services at all. This year, timing for Christmas is similar to my second year of pastoral ministry; Christmas day is on Sunday. When I went to the church council that year in my little church in Brooklyn, having been pastor there only a short time, I indicated I would be offering Christmas day service once again (as I had the other years). “Why would you do that, Pastor?” chimed in one of the new council members? “No one will be coming.”
Actually, as I explained to him, that wasn’t quite true. I indicated my family and I would be in worship on Christmas Day just as I had for my entire life. To be honest, I can’t remember if there was a service on Christmas day at my vicarage church, but I didn’t really have any say in the matter. It was a Wednesday that year but, in 1977, it was, like this year, on a Sunday. So I added in response to the council member, “Besides, it’s a Sunday.” I could tell, by the blank look on the man’s face that it still was not making sense to him.
But in those formative years of preparation for ministry, I was building on my own historic faith practices, not tearing them down. Regardless of the practices of others, my practice was the same each Christmas of my life. We excitedly gathered around the Christmas tree on Christmas morning. My parents would distribute the presents (always ending with the “last as the best” and many times it was the smallest to kind of throw us off). Or maybe our family practice was my parents’ way of preaching a little. (The little child is the best of all Christmas gifts.) After that last present was opened, we went to our rooms and got dressed for church. Rain or snow (and most often in Albany, New York it was snow), we piled into the car and drove to church. I never remembered very many being there and sometimes, due to the snow, my sister, an organist herself, had to (got to?) play when the organist couldn’t make it.
Like the rhythm of weekly worship, Christmas day worship was natural and an extraordinary gift to me (and my family). Lest we be distracted by those presents at home, we paused (even before we could get to play with the toys) to gather around the smallest of gifts, the baby Jesus. I honestly don’t remember any moving Christmas sermons. It was the entire experience of the day that preached to me. I never forgot that Jesus was “the reason for the season.”
And so when Christmas day was on Sunday, there was no way it would be canceled. I mean really. Would we want the birth of Jesus “canceling” the celebration of His resurrection (remember, each Sunday is a “little Easter)? Others may get caught up in the day being simply about giving and getting presents but disciples know the central Gift, the essential Gift and the reason that Gift was given by our heavenly Father. He came for us and because of our sins, He would fulfill the mission (to set us free from those sins and their effect on us – bringing death) and be the sacrifice for our sin.
I have seen very few what I might call “theological” Christmas cards, (ones that show the shadow and presence of the cross). Perhaps the makers feel that would be too morose, too gory and depressing to think of a cute little baby in a feeding trough dying. But that is not the case. If we are really focused on the Christmas message, it is about a child named Jesus. That is, He would be the “Savior” of all mankind and to do that He would need to die in our place. This birth of a Babe is serious work because the Father knew what would happen, that “although He was the true light that enlightens every man and He came into the world and the world was made through Him, the world knew Him not. He came to His own home and His own people received Him not.”
But to all who received Him, who believed in His name, He gave power to become the children of God.” This is what John describes in the beginning of his gospel. And that is the gift, The Gift, that is the oldest and smallest and seemingly most insignificant (a Jewish little boy born 2,000 years ago) but that ultimately changed the world and changes us! With His birth WE become children of God, in a relationship with Him that we could not develop on our own (our sin would never allow it). But in this little one lies the power, the promise and the love of the Father. That is what makes worship on Christmas Eve AND the Day of such value for us. It is not a “have to” but a “get to.” It is not driven by whether or not others will come but whether we have sensed the Gift who comes to us and seeks to meet us again this year.
Blessings on your worship this Christmas. May you receive the Gift of gifts that is yours forever and offer praise and thanks for it.
Peace in His service,
Scripture Readings for Friday, November 18, 2022
Luke 1:68-79; Jeremiah 22:1-17; 1 Peter 1:3-9