It was not until mid-day that I realized the day was Christmas Eve. It’s hard to keep track when traditions are set aside, and there are no “house and home” visits, and no Church with Children’s Service in the afternoon, and a 5:00 Faith Service, and an evening of 7:00, 9:00, and midnight Candlelight Services.
The silver tea set was out, in the Ann Bradstreet Hearth Room in those days, between the candlelight services. All sorts of people showed up. We got to embrace so many who were “home for the holidays.”
A year ago, I sat in the box pew for the Candlelight Service. Several women friends were just in front of me. In the closing “Silent Night” and passing of candlelight down the rows, I realized that one of the women in that row before me was a dear friend with whom I’d had a painful falling out over a decade ago. As the benediction came, the woman in front of me turned around and passed a message from the other friend: “She wants a have a hug, Arthur,” she said. Immediately, that dear one stood up, turned around and we embraced, and blessed each other – with tears. So tender. So unexpected. So healing. We both were overcome. That Christmas blessing was worthy of Bethlehem itself.
Suddenly, looming from the crowd was a young family, mothered by a “Confo kid” of 25 years before who introduced me to the tall handsome children that had grown from the smiling couple whose wedding I had done a generation ago. They wanted me to know that they lived in the Massachusetts town in whose hospital our first three children were born, and that the mother in question is the Nursing Director of the work of 100 people in that same hospital. Such a happy reunion, there in the candlelight of Christmas Eve.
Things happen when people of faith come together to draw close to each other, and close to Jesus in the spirit of that starlit night of His Divine coming from heaven to save us all.
How much we need each other: To be together week after week, and day after day, in surrounding prayer, in encouraging conversation in the wonderful work of witnessing, of telling the story.
It’s called “presence.” Our ministry of presence to each other – and the world around us.
Of course, Christmas Day bid fair to be a different story. No church. Until Our Lady of Grace came on the television a little after noon. People there, socially distanced, and all. With a lovely, free-style sermon about Jesus coming to us, and being near. Reminding us of the Lord’s great promise.
For me, after a lifetime of preaching on “the Day itself,” Christmas morning, it was a huge change, not being part of the great Good News story, on the day itself.
Late Christmas Eve, Molly presented me with her Message Bible and asked me to read Luke 2:1-20 and I did, and we prayed. A high point of Christmas Eve was the late afternoon arrival of a daughter and her family to sing us Christmas carols in the setting of the sun, as the cold came on. They were angel voices – the real meaning of Bethlehem, and the wondrous star. It was sobering to know that now Molly and I were the ones being caroled, when in the many years before, it was the other way around.
I’m embarrassed at the difference with Christmas itself. I slept in. No preaching, but a simple Christmas breakfast – eggs and toast, almond torte, bacon and potatoes, juice and milk. Then calls to our own children, to cheer them on, or in one case, to comfort them. Surrounded in all cases by words of love and thanks for who they are to all of us who love them.
Just some thoughts in being old at Christmas, and learning to celebrate in a new, but faithful, way. And, how to take the chance when it comes, to being a reconciler, a bringer of peace wherever we go, and in whatever season it may be.
Follow the star, folks, and let Jesus’ Light shine through you at whatever unexpected opportunity. We enter now the season of Light of Epiphany. Shine on.
Arthur A Rouner, Jr -
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