Thoughts on Christmas Eve
When we got on that plane in Atlanta just over two years ago, I had no idea how much our life would change. I can remember a late night conversation with D that went something a little like this ...
We've struggled for so long - even in this neighborhood that we love so dearly - at finding the kind of community we really want. If we can find community there ... if we can find a church there that really fills us up ... one that really challenges us ... one that helps us go deep. We can make life there work.
I dare say that two years and four moves later, we've finally found it. It wasn't until we find our little neighborhood in Beverly, and our church in Salem, that we became really confident that this move - away from everything and everyone we've ever known - wasn't just one big disaster.
It's not perfect - no church is - but we finally found a place that helps merge our love for tradition and liturgy with our love for creative worship. A place that challenges us to go deep in our faith, and to put that faith into action. A place that instantly connected us with other people, who have very quickly become the exact kind of community we've been searching for. We may have only been there for a couple of months, but we have already become deeply committed. It is so so good to find a place that feels like home.
So you can imagine I was quite excited when an all-church meeting was announced for mid-November. I couldn't wait to hear about what was coming up in the next few months. A thousand questions crossed my mind ...
Will they celebrate Advent? Or will they jump right in to celebrating Christmas?
Will there be mid-week services?
Will there be a candlelight service? What will Christmas Eve look like?
Will there be a Christmas Pageant?
And as the Pastor told us how we would have a very short Christmas Eve service in the middle of the afternoon, and then we would be invited to go out into the community to bring worship to other places, I found tears streaming down my face.
I was heart-broken. I was angry. I was terrified.
As I got in the car, I turned to D and said - through tears - I have to give up Christmas Eve this year. And I don't want to. Why is it that God always calls me to do something I don't want to do?!
His reply revealed just how much he knows me ... I couldn't help but think of you as he talked about Christmas Eve. I thought, Well This isn't going to go over well. I wonder what we'll decide to do."
I grew up in a very traditional, very liturgical church. We went to church every single Sunday, where worship was the same week after week. My favorite services as a child were the big ones. They called them "Festival services." There were trumpets, a loud organ, a procession ... have you ever watched the Vatican Christmas Eve mass on TV? It was kind of like that. And I LOVED it.
Christmas Eve was my favorite worship service of all. I have incredible memories holding a burning candle as the lights were dimmed while everyone around me sang Silent Night. It sounded like what I think an angel choir might. And I remember a very similar Christmas Eve service, when my oldest was 2. She held her candle so tight, and sang the words she knew so loudly, that it brought tears to my eyes.
And now ... now I was being asked to do something very different. There would be no candlelight service with Communion and all of my favorite songs. Instead we were going to bring worship to people who we had never met before.
I was heart-broken. I was angry. I was terrified.
But not once did I ever think we’d skip that part of Christmas Eve worship. Because I heard God loud and clear in the words that the pastor spoke over and over again. Christmas is about the day God came to us. It only made sense that we would bring Jesus to the ones who might be lonely and forgotten on Christmas Day. And that they might bring Jesus to us.
So we signed up for the morning shift and were assigned to a group home for senior women. On Christmas Eve morning, my sweet A looked at me and said,
But Mama. I don’t want to go. I just want to go to church.
I sat down next to her and gave her a big hug, and I said,
You know what? I don’t really want to go either. I hate going to new places to meet new people. But how do you think we would feel if we couldn’t go to church? Especially on Christmas Eve?
I’d be sad Mama.
Me too. And how would you feel if someone said they would bring church to you?
I think I’d be excited to have church at my home.
Me too. So today, that’s what we’re going to do. We’re going to bring church to people who haven’t been able to go to church in a really long time. Because sometimes God calls us to do hard things.
I’m not really sure if I was talking to her or if God was using my words to her to speak to me … but in that moment, I caught a glimpse of what the Kingdom of God is all about.
And as we walked in to the home that morning, I think we were all a little terrified. No one really knew where to go, or what to do. But we finally got settled in, around tables with some of the residents, and as I saw my husband begin to play guitar, and my girls begin to sing, I was overcome with a wave of emotion. As I talked to the women at my table, I began to understand why going out of my comfort zone was so important for me this year. I needed to see Jesus. I needed to experience him in a very different way.
That night, at our Christmas Eve feast of potato soup and bread, we did a little debrief of the day. A said, I was brave today. And I had to agree.
You were so brave today Autumn. Are you glad we went?
Yes Mama. Those ladies were so happy to see us!
Christmas Eve was different for me this year. It was calmer. Quieter. More still. I missed my family - I missed the bigness that used to surround Christmas Eve. Both at Church and at home.
But this year we began a new tradition - that of showing our children what Christmas really means. This year we remembered that Christmas isn’t really about the fanfare or pizazz. This year, we experienced firsthand how God didn’t wait for us to come find Him, but instead - he came to us.
Maybe my kids won’t grow up with memories of trumpets or candlelight services on Christmas Eve. But they will grow up with memories of doing hard things because Christ did hard things for us. They will grow up with memories of visiting the ones who are often forgotten and neglected on the most special days of the year. They will grow up seeing glimpses of the Kingdom of God. And for that, I am so thankful.
This was originally written as a spoken reflection for a worship service at High Rock North Shore where several of us reflected on our Christmas Eve experiences. I have very gently edited it to try to make it relevant to all readers - whether you attended worship with us this morning or not.