On Thursday, we will be standing in a park together to celebrate. Given all the strangeness and suffering that leads us to gather together in a park—wearing masks, carefully spacing our seating—it may seem odd to be celebrating anything. But we are the Church, and though we’ve never had a Christmas Eve service like this before and we might never have one like this again, we will celebrate the coming of our savior. For me, this will be the hardest Christmas Eve service ever. But I’m hoping—and praying—that it might also be the most special.
At the most practical level, this has been a difficult service to prepare. Instead of focusing on the songs we will sing, the prayers we will pray, or the sermon we will preach, I have found myself obsessively checking weather forecasts, testing cell signals, and making sure we have enough batteries for our electronic candles. So much of this year has pushed me outside my comfort zone and this service is no exception.
But deeper than that, I am carrying grief about all that I’m unable to provide as a pastor in this moment. This is supposed to be the time of year when we put on our Sunday best for you, roll out the red carpet, and welcome you and your family into a beautiful worship experience. It pains me to think I won’t be up in our worship space putting up the holly and lights, setting out the coffee and cookies, checking the sound equipment. In my head, I know that we are acting out of compassion. I know that our plans are made to keep everyone safe. Still, I can’t help but feel heartbroken that this flock I’m called to shepherd and love dearly is left out in the cold at Christmas.
That’s not all that is in my heart, though. Mingled with that pastoral love is also my own pastoral pride. The pride that wants Christmas Eve to be perfect. To be special. To be impressive. Apologies to Santa, but Christmas Eve is really the Church’s big scene, and there’s a part of me that wants to be center stage when the spotlight shines brightest.
And this year, there will be no stage. There will be no spotlight. There won’t even be the comfort and confirmation of our familiar space, where everything feels familiar and right.
This truly will be a Christmas Eve service like no other…except one. After all, all of us can think of a Christmas Eve without central heating. A Christmas Eve where the participants found themselves far from the familiar or the comfortable. A Christmas Eve where shepherds and their flocks stood out in a field worshipping God and marveling at the good news that was proclaimed for them and for the world.
We may try to pull out all the stops for our Christmas Eve service yet this moment is meant to remind us of the meek and lowly birth of our Lord and Savior in a manger.
That’s my prayer for us this year—for myself and for all of you. We’ve been given the unlooked-for blessing of having everything stripped away in this pivotal, beautiful moment. Like never before, God has opened up a space for us to focus our hearts on the simple beauty of his arrival.
As we’ve been preparing for this service, I’ve been reminded of the beautiful old British hymn In The Bleak Midwinter that seems to perfectly capture our present reality:
The hymn doesn’t deny the power and glory of God. Far from it—God is beyond anything we can imagine. But when he came to save us, the meager stable was enough.
Those words should cheer our hearts as we prepare to gather, but I’d like to leave us with the final lines of the hymn, which ask us to consider our worshipful response to his coming in the dim light of the manger:
We are all permitted a little sadness at what has been lost to us this Christmas Eve. But let us also turn our hearts to what has been gained: the gentle reminder from our Lord that all we’ve been asked to bring to this moment is ourselves, our vulnerable hearts. This is just the way God wants it.
This year has been a year of trials, sorrow, evaluating, learning, growing, and trusting, but “the people walking in darkness have seen a great light; on those living in the land of deep darkness a light has dawned…For to us a child is born, to us a son is given…And he will be called wonderful counselor, might God, everlasting father, prince of peace” (Isa. 9:2-9).
This Christmas Eve, we welcome you to join us for a very special service as we gather to offer to God all we have to give—our hearts.
Join us on Christmas Eve at 5 pm at Heights Park in Richardson for Eucharist, carols, and candlelight.