Thursday, December 26, 2013

Christmas Day Worship

My congregation has a worship service on Christmas Day.  It was not my idea.  They have held worship services here on Christmas Day for much longer than I have been here.

It's not a large congregation that gathers on Christmas Day, at least not by "Christmas Eve" size standards.  But like Christmas Eve, it's a motley crew, equal parts regular attendees and visitors, people I know well, and people I have never seen before.  Somehow, though, the mix of strangers and visiting family members and regulars seems different on Christmas morning than it does the evening before.

I have no interest in shaming congregations who do not have worship on Christmas Day.  I just do not want to have that conversation.  In fact, I do not remember ever attending a Christmas Day worship service before I became a pastor.  (My first parish also held worship services both on Christmas Eve and Christmas Day.)  And it is true, that we have sort of struggled to consider, after the drama of Christmas Eve, what the Christmas morning service is about. It's true, the readings are different, but the theme is really the same:  The Mystery of the Incarnation, the Word Made Flesh.  In the evening, you have the shepherds and the manger and all of the earthy details; in the morning, you have light and life and a more cosmic view -- poetic, but perhaps less compelling for many.  You can't do a Christmas pageant based on John, chapter 1.

 Even so, and though I am tired after the long night before, and even though I too would like to stay home and make breakfast and play with my toys, I love to get up and go to worship on Christmas morning.  Here are some of the reasons why:

1.  At my congregation on Christmas morning, we begin with the traditional Christmas Proclamation.  I know that at some churches this is read at the late service on Christmas eve, but here we read it at the beginning of the service in the morning.  The last two years, the bells have played, softly at first, and then more loudly, under the reading.

2.  There are a few people I see every year; Christmas Day is their service.  I see one family who I love dearly.  We walked with them through their beloved husband and father's long battle with cancer.  They recently joined another church, one with a more conservative theology.  I miss them,  but they still come back on Christmas Day.  It is a great reunion.  Their new church is wonderful, but does not hold a Christmas Day worship service.   "This is when Christmas should be," the mother says, but it doesn't sound like scolding.  It is always good to see them.

3.  This year almost all the hymns at the morning service were "by request."  We opened with "Good Christian Friends, Rejoice," closed with "Go, Tell It On the Mountain" and sang "The Huron Carol" for the hymn of the Day.  Requested hymns included:  "What Child is This", "Silent Night,"  "It Came Upon the Midnight Clear", and "The Bells of Christmas" (the Scandinavian tradition is not dead here).  Normally shy Lutherans were not shy about naming their favorite carols, and the children especially seemed to enjoy it.

4.  When your congregation is small, you get to notice small things:  who is crying during the sermon, the little boy who anticipates loudly the word "Go" on the chorus of "Go Tell it on the Mountain",  two teenagers I had never seen before, a family from India who had just moved here and were attending church for the first time, the deaf woman and her two sons, for whom I copied the sermon and the Christmas proclamation.

On Christmas Eve, there is the mystery of the light in the darkness, the excitement of large crowds, the reunion of families.

In the morning, we are still here.  There are just a few of us, but as it turns out, it is enough.  There are enough of us to sing, to ring bells, to weep, to eat and drink, to remember that we are children of God, full of grace and truth.

The Word made Flesh.  God is still incarnate.  Not just in straw and stables and shepherds.  In us.

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