Our Christmas Eve at Calvary was beautiful and wonderful and so, so Calvary.
The activities of Christmas at Calvary never fail to amaze me in their ridiculous strangeness and, simultaneously, in the holiness that inevitably infuses them all. And, after seven years of Christmas Eves at Calvary, I can’t imagine why any of this would surprise me.
We started late in the afternoon Thursday with decorating the stable. “The stable” in our case would be a large structure conceived and built by dedicated woodworking members of Calvary. Although I cannot historically verify my thoughts on this matter, I feel most certain that our stable is much nicer than the one in which Mary delivered Jesus. For one thing, our stable is very clean, and full of space for all the heavenly host to crowd in around the manger. The wiring with up-lights and the twinkly star above the stable also add an elemement of comfort that I imagine Mary would have enjoyed. Once all the lights were up I proceeded with my the solemn and holy task of tossing hay around the sanctuary and dragging the little cradle up from the childcare center downstairs.
After the stable was set up, activity in the building concentrated in the chapel, headquarters of the donning of the Christmas Eve costumes. For the past couple of years we’ve had a live manger scene in Christmas Eve worship, ably managed by Calvary members who help shepherds find old microphone stands to resemble staffs . . . raid the baptismal closet for angel costumes . . . wrap turbans for kingly headgear, etc. It seems like every corner of Calvary’s diverse congregation was represented in the manger scene again this year, with a wise woman wearing vestments from law school graduation, to a 6 foot, Puerto Rican Angel of the Lord wearing a crown of tinsel, to a church staff member wandering around in his bathrobe. Thank goodness there was plenty of floor space in the chapel, allowing the littler costumed angels to chase each other around to get rid of some of their extra energy before worship began.
All the while, just around the corner in Woodward Hall the Burmese youth choir was practicing for their part in the evening’s worship. What I didn’t know when I heard them practicing “Here Comes Santa Claus” was that that particular song was not the song they planned to sing in worship—it was for the Christmas play they were performing later. After a frantic trip down to the music suite just to make sure Santa Claus would not be coming to town during our Christmas Eve worship service, the craziness continued.
Cider and cookies were set out, and little angels and shepherds kept sneaking out of the chapel to grab handfuls of decorated sugar cookies outside the watchful eyes of their parents. Calvary members arrived, groups of relatives in tow. Folks I’ve come to recognize from their once-a-year visits to worship began to wander in looking vaguely uncomfortable. All the candles were set out for Silent Night. The organ was on and the musicians warming up. Bits of hay, tinsel, and angel feathers floated all over. Barely controlled chaos is what it was . . . barely controlled, but holy, for sure.
And then all of these activities translated into the start of worship. Families crowded in together, teenagers ushered ably, the stable glowed as it awaited its inhabitants, the organ hummed, the Christ candle was lit, voices rose together, “O Come, O Come Emmanuel . . . “
And he did, as he does every year. He came to be among us, in all the chaos of hay and candles and too many Christmas cookies and antsy, tinsel bedecked angels running all over the place.
For all the holiness of the family of God, gathered in the crazy diversity, chaos, and gritty realness that makes us human and, most of all, for Emmanuel, God With Us, who came to be with us our humanity . . . again this Christmas, I say thanks, thanks be to God. Amen.