But Christ can see

File:Bonfeld - Evangelische Kirche - Kanzelwand und Weihnachtsbaum 2015 - 1.jpg

Christmas Eve

I tried to stand well away from the altar, tonight, as I said the Eucharistic Prayer – the prayer that surrounds the words of institution (“In the night in which he was betrayed…”) for communion. Yesterday I was knocked down by a terrible cold and I didn’t want to touch the bread or get near to anyone lest I pass on my germs. So the assisting minister held the bread aloft at the proper moment, then the wine, then broke them for the distribution and served the bread for me.

I missed this opportunity to serve the community the gifts – or to share the peace before we come to the table – or to shake their hand and greet them after the service. I have been here 15 years, now, and there are people who come faithfully at Christmas. There are young people who have grown up and moved away but are back for the holiday. There are grandchildren and visiting aunts and uncles and siblings I have met through the years. It is hard to stand apart and wave at them from a distance after the service.

There is something wonderful about the power of this night to gather people together. Something warm and enduring about the ties that stretch over time. Something mystical about the power of this story of the child of Bethlehem and the beauty of a darkened room with the Christmas trees shining and every hand holding high a lighted candle as we sing of a silent and holy night. It speaks of peace, a peace that we remember, a peace we can imagine, a peace for which we hope.

It is our answer to the torchlight march last August in Charlottesville. It is our prayer for a world where too much is vile and violent. It is our yearning for what the world could be.

And it is our confession of what the world shall be. The babe of Bethlehem, the man from Nazareth, the healer and teacher, the embodiment of mercy and life, the good shepherd who lays down his life for the world, the crucified one is risen and comes to breathe his spirit upon us. He comes to touch us with grace and life. He comes to heal and renew the world. He comes to gather us to one table. He comes to reconcile heaven and earth.

Not everyone who comes to sing “Silent Night” can see all the way to Good Friday and Easter, to Pentecost and the New Jerusalem. But Christ can see. And the Spirit leads. And the song is begun.

Image: https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File%3ABonfeld_-_Evangelische_Kirche_-_Kanzelwand_und_Weihnachtsbaum_2015_-_1.jpg By Roman Eisele (Own work) [CC BY-SA 4.0 (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/4.0)%5D, via Wikimedia Commons

The light of God’s presence

Looking back on Sunday

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The sanctuary lamp in the darkness

Sunday was sweet. The children who came forward for the children’s message were young and inexperienced in this little ritual of church life. They were shy and, perhaps frozen by the crowd behind them and this relative stranger asking them questions.

They were simple questions. Questions about candles. What are they for? Where do we use them? Apparently they couldn’t remember ever seeing candles, though grandparents assured me after that they had candles everywhere from the fireplace to the dinner table.

Since I wasn’t getting anywhere, I took them up behind the altar to look at the perpetual light that hangs in a red globe from the ceiling. And there, sitting on the floor, behind the altar, the Christmas tree, the advent wreath and flowers, we were out of sight of the congregation – and they finally began to talk.

Darling children.

We use candles for light. We use them for celebration (birthday cakes and Christmas dinners). There were lamps in the ancient temple in Israel – the only light in a windowless room where God was understood to be present. The red lamp is a sign that God is always present – not just here where people come to pray, but with us always.

On the way back we stopped and I brought down the pillar candles on the altar so each could light one. Apparently that was the moment of success. When I walked into the fellowship hall for coffee hour, one of the little ones jumped up and said, “There he is!” (the man who let them light candles).

It’s too complicated to explain to him that he is the true light of God, the true sign of God’s presence in the world: not only now because of that fresh simplicity and innocent love characteristic of early childhood, but because we were all made in the image of God, fashioned of the earth and the breath/spirit of God, and freed in Christ to be light to the world, to be the gracious, redeeming presence of God’s love in an often dark and terribly wounded world.

Hopefully he will come to understand all this.