Monday, December 23, 2013

Christmas Eve: Welcoming the Light

The candles are lit one by one, until Christmas Eve when the holy haze of light begins rightly. The minister reads the Nativity story of Matthew or Luke, or if so fortunate, a child bravely stands in the pulpit.

Saying the words not quite with the polish of Linus Van Pelt of Charlie Brown Christmas Special fame, the child might as well be James Earl Jones, intoning the solemn words engrained in us from back in the day when we too were that child.

I grew up in a congregation where the pastor made it the highpoint of the Christmas Eve service to have the Prologue of the Gospel of St. John read. On anything other Sunday, it might have been called more plainly “this morning’s reading” or generally "today's sermon text".

But on this night, we were a bit more formal. Just as old ranchers and farmers (and other church allergic husbands) were coaxed into suits and ties (bolo or clip-on, if they were lucky) , so were the Baptists when it came to calling it “the gospel of St. John”. We did not swing incense, yet on such a night, we could not help but embrace the formalism. It felt right to precede such lofty words of the Fourth Gospel with due pomp and circumstance.

Of course, the trick of hearing such a good word is not in nodding along and then going home and forgetting what you heard. To hear of “the Word made flesh” who “dwelled among us” is a call to remember who we are as a people who have heard this word and believed. We are called to be congregations where newcomers and old-timers alike discover again and again what it means to follow Jesus, who became flesh to live in our midst. We serve a God whose love is so intense that even our faithful recitation of John latter verses in chapter three, verse sixteen, pale in comparison to our devotion and our deeds in Christ’s name.

Hearing the Nativity, whether by Matthew or by Luke, or by way of the earthy and ethereal language of John, is our challenge not just on Christmas Eve or Christmas Day. It is a witness to this Word that aims to be part of our daily lives, 365 days per year. Only by living into the fullness of Jesus’ story of life, death and resurrection does our Christmas faith match up with the confession of belief and the obedience symbolized in our baptism. That’s when we truly hear the Word.

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