One of the readers of this blog recently commented that a few of my recent posts have been a bit on the down side, and as I looked over them, I realized she was right. I have been in a bit of a professional funk, which happens. I tend to be a glass-half-full kind of person, evidenced by the title of this blog. The funk needs some personal reflection and you all don’t need to be a part of that. But I have encouraged myself not only to hold fast to what is good, but to look for what is good, and to share some stories of good news. So here’s one of those stories. (And those in it gave me their permission to tell it.)
Our later Christmas Eve service is a beautiful thing. Our choir sings like the angels. Our deacons are on it, hospitable with first-timers, alert when all the candles are lit, staying late to clean up afterwards. The worship committee has worked hard on decorations and details. But the management of all that falls on me as the pastor for worship. Do the pastors and ushers have their big candles? Will the lights go out in the right order at the right time? Did we print enough bulletins? Did our communion team put the elements in the loft for the choir? Did I remember to remind our congressman that the service starts an hour earlier than it used to, so he won’t show up an hour late? All of which is to say that sometimes it’s hard to get in the mood for worship when all those details are swirling around in my head.
But I do try to set those details aside; at some point what will happen will happen because of or in spite of all our planning. And Christmas Eve is so beautiful in the necessary sort of way, even magical for some. And I love Incarnation maybe more than I love Resurrection. So here’s a bit of Incarnation reality on Christmas Eve.
Like almost every other church, we light Advent candles for the weeks leading up to Christmas, and on Christmas Eve we light the three purples, the pink, and the big white Christ candle. We usually ask our new members, folks who have joined in the last year, to light the candles as a way to include them and introduce them. This Christmas Eve two of our new members were the lighter/readers. One a soprano from the choir, and one a transgender woman who came to know us because of a tragedy – the murder of a friend of hers who was a member of our church. They carried out their roles with aplomb and grace and poise.
We pastors processed in during the prelude, and as I settled in and tried to rid my brain of the detaily things and the gnats of minutia, I watched the people come in. Some I knew; many I didn’t, but there is a joy to watching people come in because it’s Christmas Eve and they want to be in church. Arriving just a minute or so late were some other new members: a lovely woman and her son who is physically disabled and in a large motorized wheelchair, her best friend, her sister-in-law, and his nurse. We don’t have a good space for folks in wheelchairs, so they came up and sat in the front row.
As I watched them settle in, I realized that because we were having communion by intinction, everyone who came up would pass by this family as they returned to their pews. I wondered if it would be hard for some to see this young man in his wheelchair, if for some there is an expectation that everything is pretty and “normal” on Christmas Eve, if the sight of this man would be jarring. I hoped not, because I know him a little, and because I know that the sight of him in his chair doesn’t begin to capture his personality or his mind, or the love this family has for each other.
Three weeks later, as I think about Christmas Eve and those who were a part of the service, I think we got something right. Maybe the lights didn’t go out quite right, maybe my meditation was a little more depressing than I had intended, but we got at least one thing right: people who in the past would have been shunned at church were not only welcomed, they were front and center, a part of things. Because if there is one thing to take away from that stable in Bethlehem, it is that everyone has a place there. And I will hold fast to that.
“Remembering the stable where for once in our lives
Everything became a You and nothing was an It.
(W.H. Auden, For the Time Being, A Christmas Oratorio)