Thursday, December 24, 2009

Joy to the World!

- Pictures (other than the church shot) all taken around our home yesterday evening.

For some people, it's a long and wearisome road to Christmas. Mary and Joseph - along with their faithful donkey - are not alone in arriving at today exhausted and stretched beyond reason. For all our best efforts, North American culture has crafted a tedious run-up to what should be a time of refreshment, celebration and joy. But that quality of experience requires preparation, prayer, meditation and deliberate steps to move out of the main-stream and into the presence of the Creator.

And so today is the last of the days of preparation. Across the nation, thousands of people have joined me in the series of readings collected in the book "In My Heart I Carry A Star: stories for Advent." I received an email just a couple of minutes ago from a lady who wants me to write another book, this time with 365 short chapters... For the time being I'll simply invite her to read this blog!

So this morning, all I want to do is invite you to set aside an hour today and attend a Christmas Eve celebration of communion and worship. Why communion, you may ask? For me the pause to take bread and wine is a poignant reminder that Christmas is diametric - beautiful and costly at the same moment. We can't fully appreciate the presence of the baby in the manger outside of the brutal image of a young man nailed to a cross.

At the church I attend, First Presbyterian of Brandon, Florida, we have two services. 5:00 is the most crowded - it's where the younger families tend to gather; then we have an exact replica at 7:30. My favorite momentcomes almost at the end...

...Rebekah always delivers an amazing and inspirational message; then, after communion is served, all the lights are extinguished except the "Christ Candle" in the Advent wreath. As Rebekah lights her candle and then Tim's, I begin to play "Silent Night" on my acoustic guitar. Eventually, as the pastors pass the light to each of the elders, the congregation begins to sing and the church leaders make their way around the sanctuary, touching flame to wick and spreading the gentle light to every worshiper present.

By the time the timeless carol is finished the entire church is a blaze of light. Finally, after a brief prayer, the house lights come up and the the choir leads the congregation in a upbeat rendition of "Joy to the World, the Lord is come!"

And, I've got to tell you, JOY abounds and we leave with spirits renewed and hearts warmed.

Now, and (as the Bard would say) "here's the rub." We may not do the whole candle thing on average Sunday mornings; but, otherwise, the experience of worshiping together with my church family is just as inspirational every week of the year. Christmas Eve helps bring this season into focus - but Sunday worship brings life into focus.

And Rebekah and I will come home, after hugging hundreds of wonderful people and "Merry Christmas-ing" ourselves hoarse, and we'll quietly walk the neighborhood before Rebekah in her 'kerchief, and I in my cap, will just settle down for a long winter's nap... And we will hold hands and smile - because nothing else really needs to be said or done in terms of making anything merry when we know beyond the shadow of a doubt that we are loved and cared for by a Creator who reached out through time and space to gift us with the promise of the new-born King...

... MERRY CHRISTMAS!!! - Derek

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