No matter the year, no matter the day, no matter what has or has not been accomplished, there is that moment: that moment when it is Christmas. For me, that moment seems to come when, after the celebration of the Eucharist, the lights in the sanctuary are dimmed, a candle is lit, and that light shared around the entire gathering of God’s beloved, all who are gathered kneel and in one voice the congregation joins in the singing of that beautiful hymn “Silent Night, Holy Night, All is calm, All is bright…” In those moments, indeed, the world for an instant becomes calm, the light of the incarnation of God beams bright. For me in that moment, it is Christmas. In those precious moments, I become acutely aware of that child lying beneath that star with those parents standing alert watching over this child. Shepherds, angels, animals are all part of the portrait. God declares in that moment that age-old covenant promise “Immanuel”: that is, God with us.
In these strange and odd times, that moment of peace, that time-honored pause, that age-old tradition of recognizing that God’s love for us is so great that God chose to come and dwell among us. This year, that pause will occur in a different fashion. I find my emotions very near to the surface. There is a palpable void and loss in anticipating this Christmas Eve knowing how different it will be.
I wish that I had some words, some expression, some practice that would ease this loss. I do not. I know that as painful and as difficult as this decision is, the decision to suspend in-person worship is a good decision. We live in a world where a deadly virus is lurking. We live in a place where our only defense is to stay apart, and wear masks, and practice good personal hygiene. As I know that to be true, I am also painfully aware that it is a decision that tears and tugs at my heart. That moment that replenishes my soul will not happen in this same way.
One of my favorite poems is W. H. Auden’s “Christmas Oratorio.” Auden writes about the practicality of life, multiplication tables to be memorized, tables to be wiped, all the doings of everyday life. He then whimsically says, “But to those who have seen the Christ child, however dimly,” to those life is changed. That glimpse of God among us, God incarnate and at work in our lives and in our world completely, reorients everything. That light that comes into the world on this most Holy of Nights allows us the vision of God’s kingdom coming among us.
This Christmas, you and I must seek that light perhaps in some new and different places. For me, that moment of “Silent Night” will be sorely missed. I know that this year the Christmas Star will appear in the sky. Perhaps that moment will come gazing upon that celestial beacon. I received a Christmas note from a young lady that I have known since she was born. Holding her sweet, caring note warmed my heart. A 13-year-old taking the time to write such a heartfelt note made me aware of those dear, precious ties that bind us one to the other. Those ties are reflections of the love that our God first gave to us. They are moments when we know our God incarnate is among us. Perhaps these are Christmas moments. I have my father’s Christmas stocking which, each year since his death, we hang with the others. Hanging that stocking floods my heart with a lifetime of memories. Perhaps that Christmas moment comes in honoring those traditions that ground us and tether us both to our past as well as guide us to the future.
As people of God, we are called to search and seek with shepherds, with angels, and with wise people to seek the Christ child. This year, I encourage us all to seek Immanuel, God with us, in new and different places. To those who seek and, however dimly, see the Christ child, the Christmas moment will be there. For that, we all may say, “Glory to God in the highest.”
The Rev. Sarah Nelson