It's almost time! Families are gathering from far and near. Kitchens are filled with the rich smells of baking. Brave souls are fighting traffic and crowds to pick up one more item on their list. Children are filled with anticipation: "Is TODAY Christmas?"
There is a moment I experience every year on Christmas Eve. It is the moment when all of the longings of Advent lift their heads and cry, “this is it!” It’s the moment between the contemplations of Silent Night and the exuberance of Joy to the World. It’s a pause, a quiet space, a transition.
Minutes before we are in Advent, preparing, waiting, anticipating. Minutes later, we will be thrust into Christmas with celebration and laughter and wrapping paper scattered on the floor. But in between, there is a sacred moment. And in that moment, each year, my heart beats a little faster. I look around the sanctuary at everyone else, and know it’s going to end way too quickly. I want to yell, “Slow down! This moment is going to pass. We’re going to miss it.”
Did the heavens feel that moment on that first Christmas? The moment between the final push and the newborn’s cry? Was all of creation holding its breath? Did they recognize that everything was about to be divided between what happened before this moment and what would come after?
The moment can’t last. I know this. But I want it to. I want to rest there for a while. To touch the depths of the holy. I want to speak words that somehow expose the mystery of what is happening, of what happened those 2000 some years ago. And yet, there are no words, not really, none that I can find, at least.
The best we can do is sing our faith, remembering that “the hopes and fears of all their years” were met in the birth of a baby in the shadows of an empire. And so, we sing and we pray. The words are familiar for those of us who have grown up in this Story. And yet, they have the ability to make me catch my breath, there, in that moment.
I want to keep singing, hoping it will help me stay in this sacred space a little while longer. Surely we haven’t sung all the songs there are to sing on this night?
But the lights will be turned back on in the sanctuary. People will gather up their coats and wave their Christmas greetings to each other. Excited children will pull on the sleeves of their parents’ sweaters, asking if they can open just one present when they get home. They will bundle up and head back into the cold, towards warm, lit houses. Maybe with others gathered. Maybe with snacks and cookies and punch waiting.
Tomorrow we will sing Joy to the World, and again I will want to slow us all down. Can’t we sing it one more time? With even more gusto than the last? We won’t sing it again, likely, for another whole year. We need this. We need one more Joy to the World. I need to hear, again, that no more will sin and sorrow grow, nor thorns infest the ground. I need more time to acknowledge that all of the waiting of Advent, all of the longings of our broken world are gathered up, somehow, in the moment that God became a helpless baby.
I can't slow things down. And so instead I will try to be fully present wherever I am today, paying attention to the hope, love, joy, and peace that surround me.
Whatever your story may be, whether you wake into this day with sorrow and a grieving heart or whether you wake into this day with excited anticipation, may your Christmas be infused with hope and love, joy and peace. May you have moments when you are deeply aware of God's steadfast love for you, for the world. Merry Christmas, my friends.