As I write this, we stand a scant four weeks before Christmas. Amazing!
I’m thinking of something you can get me for Christmas, Lord: a Dick Tracy-styled time gadget for my wrist. It needs to be a gadget (because guys love gadgets): perhaps like an Apple wrist computer-thingy that people wear. I’d like to be able to stop time when I want to, have it slow down when it seems to fly by too fast, and speed up when I’m just trying to get through something. Also, if you give that gadget thing to anyone else in my church, make it so they can’t speed up through the sermon.
In any event, can another year have flown by since we sang “Joy to the World! The Lord has come!”? Has it been a year since we reminded ourselves of “Hark! the herald angels sing, Glory to the newborn King!”? It seems like yesterday that “Good King Wenceslas” was gathering wood to put by the fire in the “Little town of Bethlehem”, when “Good Christian friends, Rejoice(d)”, and when the “Shepherds watched their sheep at night”. I want to push the “slow-down” button on my watchy-thingy wrist gadget!
A short year ago we joined together in the peaceful silence of our sanctuary at 7pm on the eve of Christmas, just as we will again do this year, and stood quietly with candles burning. We came from our warm homes into the cold evening air to walk into a sanctuary which has welcomed Christian travelers for nearly 180 years. Thousands of snow-covered shoes have walked through the doors on Christmas Eve, flung open in the face of winter winds, and have walked upon the maple flooring. The walnut pews, built from trees just across the river, were laden with full bellies and winter coats. The light in the window casts a glow which reveals anyone who may have drifted-off for a moment.
We will gather to once again sing familiar carols and to hear the timeless Christmas narratives which are read year after year. Nothing is new about it. In fact, it’s really the steadfast familiarity of the words and tunes that can give us comfort and strength. In a challenging world there are times when we need to lean on the familiar in order to accept the new. The words of scripture have been read for over 2000 years. Imagine that: 2000 years of people sitting quietly to hear words which have brought light in darkness and hope in the face of despair: one generation after the next.
Sitting next to us are family, friends, and strangers. We have some who only get to church once, maybe twice, a year. Family members “home for Christmas” will join us in the pews. There are likely to be strangers in our midst who have been “meaning to try the church” or “meaning to come back to church”. It will be good to see them.
It would be easy for “the regulars” in church to make snide remarks about those who don’t come regularly but make it for Christmas. No question: I’d also like people in church all year-round. But in those remarks would be lost the joy that the church is full on Christmas Eve to hear the story of God’s presence. Everyone, whether they are in church every Sunday or only once a year, will hear the stories of ultimate Hope which may inspire them to become active or more active in the Body of Christ, his Church. My job, and the job of every church member, is to welcome everyone into the Body of Christ…it’s your job, Lord, to change their hearts. I think I got the easier of the two jobs.
But for now, Christmas Eve is a month away. I’m going to imagine myself pushing the “slow-down” button on my Dick Tracy-styled time machine. We are in Advent: the season of preparation for Christ’s birth. I want to lose 10-pounds before Christmas: 10-pounds of hypocrisy, judgment, ingratitude, lack of forgiveness, arrogance, and apathy!
As always, thanks for listening. I love you.