Updated: Dec 26, 2022
Merry Christmas! God is with us.
Well, we're back from the early Christmas Eve service, waiting for our traditional Christmas Eve Chinese food to arrive and for daddy to come home after the later services.
Me, I spent the whole service angry and raw.
I also spent the whole service trembling in the presence of the divine.
Not half angry and half worshipful. Completely angry. Completely worshipful. Feeling both in my body; my gut, my neck, my not quite overflowing eyes.
Silent night, holy night. All is calm, all is bright. Round yon virgin mother and child, holy infant so tender and mild, sleep in heavenly peace.
Nothing new happened tonight at church. Same carols. Same Scripture readings. Same wooden stable scene someone had to drag out of the church basement. Nothing new under the sun.
And, like every year on Christmas Eve, the encounter with the Christ child was wholly new.
I'd have preferred to go to one of the later, more adult worship services, the ones with the choir and the sermon.
But my son had agreed to read Scripture at the family service, and the other teenagers chimed in they wanted to go to that service too. They wanted to see the kids. They wanted to be done early.
Silent night, holy night; shepherds quake at the sight. Glories stream from heaven afar. Heavenly hosts sing Alleluia. Christ, the Savior is born.
The ride to church brings complaints about going, including preemptive complaints about going again tomorrow. I'm impatient. My thoughts are on undone work, my list of to-dos, whether the turkey will defrost in time for tomorrow.
We arrive in the gloaming, the light making magic of the stained glass, cobalt and azure popping. The transition from sub-freezing parking lot to toasty sanctuary shocks the system, the furnace running hard.
Cheap tinsel and priceless organ. White lights on the trees. Velvets and ribbons. Though my younger teens wear don't-care sweats.
Babies make their baby noises throughout the service, noises completely familiar and foreign. Familiar because I mothered four of them, their noises exact copies of these.
Foreign because my youngest is a teenager; I haven't heard them in years; so much fades.
Fully familiar. Fully strange. Felt fully in my flesh.
Silent night, holy night, Son of God, love’s pure light. Radiant beams from thy holy face, with the dawn of redeeming grace Jesus, Lord, at Thy birth.
We read of the angel announcing the suspect good news to Mary, to Joseph.
The same readings which streamed with utter stateliness from King's College in London earlier today are read now by a small flock of teens recruited by our wonderful children's pastor.
One reads as well as any chosen lector for the King's lessons and carols could have done. Another stumbles over the word betrothed, another goes quickly in monotone.
My own teen son, taller than his father, voice as deep as any grown man, reads about Mary's ponderous heart, and my heart aches, this his last Christmas before he leaves our nest.
Each reader so precious. Each reading so old and so new.
I'm still angry.
I'm still trembling before the holy.
Angry about all the annoyances. The ways the kids hurt each other and hurt me. The ways I hurt them.
The ways I wish things had gone differently before we got to this late hour.
Little things are part of this: my youngest pulling his sweatshirt over his face, refusing to stand to sing. The plastic holders fitted with the candles for "Silent Night" falling on the floor once, twice, again, again.
And there are big things: those deep troubles of every marriage, every parent and child, every church, every heart. Those things I would never make your business by writing them down. I buzz with frustration and finitude.
And I'm still trembling at the nearness of the holy.
The ritual is of the carols and the night, of the flame passed hand to hand until the whole church and every face glows. The ritual is enough to do its work.
It's old; undergirded by a lifetime of "Silent Nights," candles lit.
Intensified by the pandemic years that passed without candles in congregation.
Behind that, backed by the days when my cynical teens were wonder-filled toddlers, caught like moths in the holy flames.
One warbling voice tries for the same descanted glory that will awe the choirs of eternity. Whether she makes it or not doesn't matter.
It's old; the carol long predating us, the story eternal.
And it's new.
Tonight's specific annoyances are new.
The unexpected fact that those annoyances are once again to be caught up into the presence of the holy God and bathed in holy love?
It's new. New creation breaking in.
Silent night! Holy night! Wondrous star, lend thy light; with the angels let us sing "Alleluia" to our King: Christ the Savior is born!
And that old-new is enough to let us glimpse how thin is the veil is that separates us from utter glory.
That veil is not between us and God.
Tinsel and gold.
Anger and worship.
That veil is just that which lets us forget that God is
in the tinsel and the anger. Right here with us in the heartbreaking ordinary.
And the candled light, for a song's length at least, undoes our forgetting.
Incarnation isn't God letting us out of the ordinary and into glory. It's the truth that ordinary is glory because God is here with us.
God embraces our flesh.
God made the ordinary. Loves the ordinary. Is bringing the ordinary into the kingdom that is glory all round.
Love holds our petty, restless anger, and love holds our deepest sorrow. It invites us to bring them to the Son of God.
Because Jesus isn't partly human and partly divine. He's all of God and all of us, in the one little person whose head Mary kissed as she held him close and inhaled his impossible, earthy newborn smell.
He's completely God and completely human.
Fully able to handle all our pain as only God can do.
Fully here with us, in that pain, so that we know how much he loves us. God and human in body and soul.
Glories stream from heaven.
Alleluia. Come Lord Jesus.
To you, O Christ, Word of the Father,
we offer our lowly prayers and humble thanks;
for love of our human race
you most wonderfully chose to be born of Mary,
and to take our nature as nevermore to lay it by;
so that we might be born again by your Spirit
and restored in the image of God;
to whom, one blessed Trinity,
be given all honour, might, majesty and power,
now and for ever (Book of Common Prayer).