Our church celebrates Christmas Eve twice – once at 5:00 p.m. and again at 11:00 p.m. Some ministers resist having two services but I enjoy both because they offer two very different, but entirely accurate versions of Christmas. The early service is crowded, noisy, and exuberant. The sanctuary walls are almost vibrating with energy as over-excited and over-sugared children try to hold it together so they can stay off the “naughty” list. This service represents “joy” to me.
The late service is entirely different. Quiet, candle-lit, and hushed, our sanctuary glows with Christmas peace. Beautiful music soothes harried seekers who yearn to hear the Good News of a God who wants to be found. This service whispers “hope” to me.
Although it was way past my bedtime, I shared the following reflection on Christmas Eve before we celebrated communion.
I hope you get everything you want for Christmas. And even more – I hope you get something that you need. That really is the question for Christmas, isn’t it – what do you need? It’s a good question to ask because if we know we need something, we will be ready to receive it.
We might even go looking for it.
Think about that very first Christmas. Who received something?
The shepherds did. They heard the invitation – they heard angels singing, they heard the announcement of this miraculous birth. And they said to each other – I want that. I need that. In beautiful Bible language, it sounds like this: “Let us go now to Bethlehem and see this thing that has taken place, which the Lord has made known to us.” But what they were saying was, “This is something I need. Here is something I lack. So I will go, I will seek, I will look until I find it. They knew what they needed so they could receive what God was offering.
It was the same for the wise men. They saw the star in the sky. It must have called to them, spoken to their spirit. It must have awakened a need in them because they followed it across miles and miles. They journeyed a long way to find that young child. Because they knew that they needed what he had to offer.
I’m willing to bet that other people heard the angels’ song. It wasn’t just the shepherds. And I’m sure that other people saw that star in the sky. But those people didn’t go looking. They aren’t part of the story.
Maybe they stayed home that night because they weren’t able to say that they had an empty spot in their hearts that could only be filled by a baby lying in a manger.
It’s a pretty vulnerable thing to say. To say – I am lacking something. I need something more.
Who knows what the shepherds were looking for? Maybe it was
They needed something – and they needed it enough that they were willing to leave everything familiar behind. They wanted and needed something more. And they dared to believe that it was being offered to them.
That is the Good News of Christmas. This gift is being offered to you.
And we can either convince ourselves that we are “just fine” and we don’t need anyone or anything. Or we can take a look at ourselves and realize that we need what God is offering.
There is a saying that you can’t really celebrate Christmas unless you know that you are poor. We’re not talking about money here. We’re talking about what we need, deep inside of us. It’s about being able to say – I need God’s gifts. Sometimes we think we don’t need help. Or we think that we are beyond help. Beyond forgiveness. Beyond love. Beyond repair
We convince ourselves that we are unforgivable or unlovable. Or it’s just too late.
Christmas tells us that isn’t true. Christmas tells us that God wants to give, is waiting to give, is eager to give. Christmas tells us about God who seeks us out in order to be able to give us what we need. Christmas tells us about a God who puts stars in the sky so we will be able to find God. And who sends messengers so we will hear the Good News
Christmas is about the original gift-giver.
Christmas is about God who loves us. The one who knows what we need, even before we say. The one who is waiting for us to say – yes, please. I want this gift. I want the love, the forgiveness, the new life, the hope you are offering.
My reflection was inspired by this quote by Oscar Romero
“No one can celebrate a genuine Christmas without being truly poor. The self-sufficient, the proud, those who, because they have everything, look down on others, those who have no need even of God – for them there will be no Christmas. Only the poor, the hungry, those who need someone to come on their behalf will have that someone. That someone is God. Emmanuel, god-with-us. Without poverty of spirit there can be no abundance of God.”
Oscar Romero (Archbishop of San Salvador)