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Unusual Christmas Eve Service

imagesLPHC311SThe 11 PM Christmas Eve service at my church is always a highlight of the busy season.  We sing carols and special music, listen to the familiar story, take in some thoughts about the season, and end with candles lifted high singing “Silent Night”.  Hundreds of candles are reflected in the glass windows.  I always cry.  The crazy busy-ness of the season recedes in my weary brain.  I marvel at the grace available to me.  I am grateful for second, and third, and fourth chances.  I hope for a more peaceful world.

This year was different.  All of Advent was different.  The messages made sense to me.  They were progressive and stripped of fake myth.  They spoke of losing illusions and moving into possibilities.  I didn’t have to pretend to believe something that seemed out of context or illusory or too much like a fairy tale.

That must have been good, because the Christmas Eve service was like none other I’ve ever experienced.

A young man spoke out boldly and loudly after a prayer, saying it wasn’t enough.  He wasn’t someone we knew.  He said that he wanted to believe, but didn’t think it the prayer’s message pertained to him.  He continued talking as the minister moved closer to him, speaking of his own struggles with faith and encouraging the interrupter to engage in conversation.  The congregation held its collective breath.  Where was this going?  Was it possible he had a gun?  What could or should we do?  Time suspended.

The two came face-to-face and that’s when the minister realized that the young man was inebriated and that a meaningful conversation could not happen right then.  The choir began singing then with the hope the confrontation would settle.  It didn’t.  The young man headed up toward the podium and the minister continued to speak of acceptance and to invite him to come talk with him another time when he hadn’t been drinking.  Two of the man’s family members left.  The man continued talking and approaching.

An usher, a young man with Asperger’s Syndrome who has grown up in our church and is studying for the ministry, moved to the front pew in case he was needed.  Finally, after a long fifteen minutes, the man exited and our minister spoke about what had just happened.  Later he gave his card to the man’s family, saying he was available.

He reminded us that Christmas is not the serene pretty Christmas card we all want it to be.  Christmas is often messy and lonely and distressing.  It can be filled with heartache and brokenness.  But underneath the tinsel and pretty trappings, and then even underneath the hurt and unspoken pain, lies a love that can fill us and lift us and hold us accountable.  And then we lit our candles and sang “Silent Night”.

It was without a doubt my all-time favorite Christmas Eve.



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Categories: celebrant musings


SmallLogo Today our Phoenix West Threshold Choir sang in a hospice care unit for a young man who was profoundly disabled.  We weren’t even sure he could hear us, and if so, if he was listening.

After the first song he reached up to touch my face and I let him.  He stroked my cheek and said “Mama” with a peaceful look on his face.

I kept thinking I had to hold my emotions in check and continue to gift him with song, which we did.

“Spirit’s made a place for you, where everything is new.”  

(–Melanie DeMore)

As we walked out, the tears burst forth.

Who was gifting whom?