Tonight we visited our old church: the Vineyard. We like to go on Christmas Eve because they have a tradition we enjoy. They ask the church members to give out boxes of Krispy Kreme donuts to all the workers who stay up all night on Christmas Eve. We go to fire houses, police stations, fast food restaurants, hospitals and more.
We have gone to the fire house in the past but this time were assigned to a United Dairy Farmers - UDF - (sort of like a 7 Eleven crossed with Thrifty ice cream, for you west coast readers). We entered the little store with full hands and "Merry Christmases" only to find out that the company doesn't allow gifts of food to be given to its workers. We'd been assured that each place had been contacted by the church, but apparently this one slipped through the cracks. No matter. We hustled over to the "Waffle House" where the waitress gratefully accepted the overly sweet confections on behalf of her staff.
It's a nice tradition. I like that we are other centered on Christmas Eve. However, I prefer the trip to the fire house. There's something so earnest about fire fighters.
It was odd being at our old church facility. The worship leaders led some carols with a couple of guitars. We lit the little white candles with doilies around them. My nine year old daughter sure loves that! The huge auditorium holding 2000 people lit up as well and soft light suffused the massive theater style arena. (Not unlike the cell phone tribute at the U2 concert, come to think of it, but on a smaller scale.)
I got a special kick out of the way the moment the candles were lit, muffled cries and screams could be heard beneath the chorus of Silent Night. Dozens of toddlers were being carted out of the room as their parents wrestled them away from candles they would not be permitted to hold! Oh the torture of seeing the light yet not being old enough to possess it. [g]
The pastor talked about how one little light can ignite the whole world. It's a trite idea (one we've heard all our lives), but I liked it tonight. I liked it better than the carols, the prayers, the reminders to look for "divine appointments to share the love of Jesus."
There's something about light when winter is just getting started, that light can do good in the dark, that we can be a tiny bit of help in a complex world - this idea comforts me.
What about the star in that Bethlemehm sky that led the wise men to Jesus (such a sharp image)? It points to more than the story of Christmas, but rather suggests that a little bit of light can guide us in the dark; we are groping, hoping to find something worth the journey by the end, moved by the power of hope that comes from seeing a baby and imagining that this one will make a difference this time...
"Our hopes and fears through all the years are met in thee tonight" could be sung about every baby... don't we all feel that way when we hold our own children as newborn babes?
The squawking toddlers reminded me of how overly neat and symbolic the original Christmas story really is. Somewhere between the idealized version of Jesus's birth in Matthew and Luke and the reality that was Jesus's birth is something even more important than facts or myths. The Christmas story is a story of hope.
Each of us dares to hope in the face of odds that tell us nothing will change. Jesus's birth says to us: why not this generation? Why not this time?
Rather than camping at the feet of a religious myth attempting to verify it through historical research, it seems that we can establish (or reject) the fact and miss the message. Whatever you think of Jesus, the message of Christmas speaks to anyone who wants to hear it. Peace through hope, for all of us... why not this time? Why not this generation? Why not these children in our arms?
Why not dare to believe as Jesus did in his time that we can join in the reign of God to bring hope and peace to everyone?