Merry Christmas, dear friends.
It's been the most wonderful night. Just this afternoon, I was sitting on my friend Katie's couch, reminiscing about good old-fashioned candelight Christmas Eve services, and how much I miss them. Growing up, it was always one of my favorite services of the year, mostly because of all the singing, and when you add in all the New England charm of snow-covered slate walkways and an evergreen-bedecked church built over 150 years ago - well, it's hard for anything to win out over that sort of childhood memory/ritual, and the "Cosmic Christmas" service that I went to last night with some friends at a large church nearby left me feeling like I still needed to go somewhere to worship... but I didn't know where to go, and I had plans to go out for dinner with my good friend Kim...
But enter God's perfect plan. Kim and I had not done our research well, and almost everywhere we went in search of dinner was closed, or just closing as we got there. We ended up at a McDonald's drive-thru, just 3/4 of an hour before they closed. We drove around and looked at Christmas lights while we ate (another Christmas tradition from my childhood that I love) - and then we went to church. Kim's parents go to a UCC church a couple towns over, and we joined them for their Christmas Eve service.
It was perfect. Bells chiming. Snow-covered trees. Evergreens hung everywhere. Candles in the windows. A beautiful stained-glass window as a focal-point of the room, called the Bethlehem window - depicting the town with the star shedding light upon it - and the cross on the altar under it in just the right place to connect the imagery. The table with "In Remembrance of Me" inscribed upon it. The advent wreath with peace, hope, love, and joy already lit. The carols, the choir, the organ, a real piano. And liturgy!!! Calls and responses. The Lord's prayer. An actual offertory. A benediction. And the candlelit singing of Silent Night. None of this fire-code nonsense and glow-stick substitute baloney. REAL candles, with actual flames. And an amusing safety demonstration by the pastor...
And it was all real. You could tell. The pastor meant what he said. At least most of the choir loved being there. And there were people there who loved each other. Could I have done without the running commentary from the lady behind me? Well, yes, but it was funny, and I almost busted up laughing when someone back there went horribly off-key. And it kept me grounded in the reality that the church really is made up of people... and it's so much grace that God loves us all.
It was a perfect evening. And NOW it is Christmas. It didn't feel like it earlier today. But now it is. (Thank You...)
So, Merry Christmas, to all of you. May peace and harmony reign where you are tonight, in your hearts, and in your minds, and in your souls. May you experience the reality this day of Emmanuel, God with us. And may you find joy with every new dawn - for each one brings new mercies.
Merry Christmas, dear friends... and to all, mmmm..... a good night. :)