The new floor is in the entryway. The Christmas tree is finally up. The chrismons are on the tree and visible to passersby. We have decided to place the new nativity scene in the entry, in that area encompassed by the stairs circling up to the old choir loft. We need better lighting for the nativity, but it looks wonderful. The Christmas tree in the sanctuary has been enriched and looks even more beautiful. Though this Sunday is still Advent, Christmas is near.
Advent is all about that thrill, that building excitement, that certainty of the coming celebration.
There are so many moments in life like this: the building energy and excitement as fans throng towards the gates of the stadium; the tension and joy of dressing for a wedding; the anxious optimism of a new school year; the exciting anticipation of a new relationship.
Sometimes that thrill is intentionally manufactured – think Super Bowl for the thousands of fans who have no stake in either team, but are bombarded with high-energy music, images and constant media hype. Some Christian hope in the second coming is like this: hyped hope, the manipulations of scripture to make it look like we are living in the bottom of the ninth inning of the seventh game of the World Series.
Every child imagines it is the critical moment whether they are pretending to be at Wimbledon, the NBA finals, or the Masters. It appeals to our egocentrism. But there is joy in the fifth inning of game 60 in the middle of summer, when the warm sun and cold beer and leisurely pace of the game nevertheless speak of the simple and profound sweetness of life.
A lot is at stake for the local parish on Christmas Eve. We want so much for the service to be wonderful, to give all those occasional visitors a reason to come back not just at Easter but for the Seventeenth Sunday of Ordinary Time in the middle of the summer.
But we will not find the same choir, the beautiful sanctuary, the energy of filled pews, the sweet, powerful, familiar, and majestic Christmas music. What we will find is the table of our Lord, the invitation to partake in God’s mercies, the promise of the healing of our hearts and our world. What we will find are the ancient writings that speak of a liberating, challenging, passionate and compassionate power/presence in whom and for whom all things exist. What we will find is a community struggling to live up to the vision contained in those texts, a community offering their prayers for one another, a community trying to live in and from the love of God.
There is a lot of pressure on congregations to make Christmas special. But it is not we who make Christmas holy; it is Christ who makes us holy, who wraps us in his holiness, who embraces us in his love, who surrounds us with his peace, who summons us to live trusting his word and example.
I hope that all who come to worship with us this year will find beauty, joy and wonder in our services. But I pray that they will see something of that deeper thrill that is not the first date, but daily life with a loving companion, a family of mutual support and care, and the confidence that the destiny of the world is not sorrow but joy.