Christmas Eve 2014...

Two worship celebrations down and one more to go! Earlier today I celebrated a quiet midday Eucharist with two friends. We found ourselves bathed in the joy and challenge of Mary's canticle (my soul magnifies the Lord and my spirit rejoices in God my Savior.) 

Then at 5 pm, I vested in my black robe for a very traditional liturgy of Carols and Candle Light Communion. It, too, was a joy - well attended and moving in a tender and loving way. There were lots of babies and small children sharing their little whoops and coos along with old timers and new friends from all walks of life.

A particular joy for me was sharing the readings with Ted and Ethan. When I arrived in the Berkshires, Ethan was a little boy. Eight years later he is a young man - an excellent musician growing in stature and skill every month - and a loving presence of hope to me in these trying times. To have him read with his poppa was one of the treats I have come to cherish doing parish ministry. It was awesome to hear the pipe organ accompanied by oboe, flute and soprano sax as Carlton and Charlie made the old songs come alive, too. I love celebrating a very traditional Christmas Eve liturgy with my church family - and our new friends. It is a comfort and a source of stability. 

Now we're chillin' - and will have a light supper - before returning in a few
hours for a totally out-of-the-box liturgy at 11 pm. This year we're working as a jazz quartet - sax, drums, piano and bass - exploring the darker texts just below the obvious stories in our celebration of the Christ Child's birth. Usually I don't push the envelope on this night - I don't phone it in either - but given my own losses and the shape of pain in the world, it felt important to honor the anguish, fear and sadness that is so real from Gaza and Bethlehem to Pakistan, West Africa, Staten Island and Ferguson, MO. There will be lots of improvisation on hymns of joy, dark and challenging carols and some original music, too. (Maybe we can record it and share it... we'll see!)  My reflection puts it like this:

Another paradox in the story that is sometimes obscured at Christmas ceremonies is this: without people like you and me sharing the presence of the Lord in the world – without allies of God crying out against the darkness, embracing the heartbroken in solidarity and trust and making freedom and forgiveness flesh – all we will know is the cruelty of those like King Herod who cause Rachel to weep yet again over the death of her children.

·   The gospel of Matthew tells us that after Jesus was born, the governor of Palestine appointed by Rome, a toadie, we know as King Herod, realized that the Three Kings weren’t going to return to him and rat out the Holy Family. In his fury he ordered the slaughter of all the male children of Palestine under the age of two.

·   That ancient text sounds all too much like our own headlines:  “A voice is heard in Ramah, or Gaza, or Pakistan, or Staten Island or West Africa or North Adams, weeping and great mourning, Rachel crying for her children and refusing to be comforted, because they are no more.” The old story is startlingly contemporary…
So we gather tonight in the darkness, not just for the sake of tradition, not just to remember what happened in Bethlehem then, but to embrace one another now. Tonight we reclaim a commitment to stand with all who are afraid or ashamed because, you see, hope is NOT a feeling – it is a decision – a choice we make “by either faith or moral conscience, whatever most deeply motivates you.” (Jim Wallis)

Tonight our voices are raised in songs of solidarity with all who gasp: I can’t breathe. Tonight we stand with the Holy Family who found a measure of hope when heaven touched earth, when the innkeeper acted in kindness and found a place for Mary to give birth to the Prince of Peace, when freedom and forgiveness became flesh for all eyes to see. Now it could be that you’ve never heard this part of the Christmas story before.  It takes some time as well as some silence and contemplation to come to terms with such an upside-down story. That’s why we’ve constructed this celebration with jazz – the creative marriage of tradition and innovation – a musical practice that shows us how to both honor what is old even while making it new.

At this moment in time, we sensed that all of us needed the space to let our souls be saturated with sacred silence, songs and stories that strengthen hope. So please understand that we’re going to take all the time we need to get this right – and you can, too.  Tonight is the feast of the Holy Child’s birth, so come let us adore him…

I found myself doing a jazz thing to some existing prayers - blending the old with the new - so that it spoke to this moment before we sang "Silent Night" tonight. 


All Loving God, filled with grace and awe,
   On this holy night you give us your Son, the Lord of the universe
   And the Savior of all people
As an infant wrapped in swaddling clothes and lying in a manger.

In the first moments of his life you showed us the paradox of your love.

Open us to the mystery of his powerlessness
   And enable us to recognize him in these strange and challenging times.
You who are holy wished to be born into the heart of our brokenness
   To bring us forgiveness: 
   Lord, have mercy.
You who are strong wished to be born weak as a child in order to give us strength:
   Christ, have mercy.
You who are immortal
   chose to put on a body to die in order to give us everlasting life:
  Lord, have mercy.

Holy God, Loving God, Strong and Immortal God,
   Give the peace of heaven to our earth and
   Open the door of your mercy to us who are beggars of your love
For we pray through our Lord Jesus Christ and the Spirit of holiness
   That the light of Christ that shines in the darkness
   Might be born anew in our hearts.
Amen.

Thank you dear friends for reading and becoming my friend: I have found love and encouragement all over the world. Merry Christmas and lots of love to you all.

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