22 Dec The Gift of God’s Presence was Felt in Worship
When I was a kid, I always felt deflated the day after Christmas, like a balloon that had just had all the air let out of it. Gone were the magic and anticipation. There were no more special cookies to bake or parties to attend. The tree looked bare with no presents underneath it. There was nothing exciting to look forward to; all the fun was behind me.
I experienced a bit of that same feeling this week following our Lessons and Carols service last Sunday. We work hard at Calvary to offer worship every week that opens our hearts to God, but some services end up having just that little something extra. The fun part is that I am often the most surprised person in the sanctuary when that happens because it’s never something I can plan. It’s a “God thing,” and it usually occurs when I least expect it.
Sunday was, for me, one of those special days. The music was so powerful and glorious that I felt I had an inkling of what the shepherds experienced when the angels appeared to them. “Glory to God in the highest” is a phrase that appears a lot during Advent, but I found those same words welling up inside my heart over and over again as my spirit soared along with the melodies we sang and heard.
I witnessed my faith community fully engaged, and that also made my heart sing. For our Lessons & Carols service, we have many people participating as singers, instrumentalists, and readers. Our children shared a wonderfully creative and gripping story about how babies’ births are announced today—and how Jesus’ birth was announced. (Let’s see: news via a Twitter feed and a Facebook post OR angelic visitations, magical stars and 2000 years of celebrations in your honor—clearly, this was no ordinary baby!) We also had an unexpected visit during our service by the Jewish priest Zechariah, husband of Elizabeth and father of John the Baptist. The Christmas story is so familiar that hearing (and seeing) it from a different perspective can help the story come alive to us in new ways.
I left church on Sunday knowing that I had been in the presence of God, knowing that God was at work in my heart and life and trusting that others had also experienced something meaningful and powerful. Then, of course, Monday morning came and it was back to work, and the pressures and intensity of the season were immediate. This week there was not just one bulletin and service to prepare, as is the norm. Instead, there were two, for both Christmas Eve and Christmas Day. I still have not finished the preparations for my family’s celebration. And, people still get sick and grieve and die this time of year. The needs are many and the hours all too few. It didn’t take long before Sunday’s experience of the holy was in danger of being swallowed up by the incessant march of time and life.
But, that’s exactly the point, isn’t it? Faith is not something separate from the demands of our lives or the needs of the world. Living in God’s presence isn’t something we take off the shelf for special occasions, like Christmas and Easter, and following Jesus isn’t just for Sundays. God’s Incarnation changes everything. No, this baby’s birth doesn’t change the challenges or circumstances we face, but it does completely upend how we face those challenges and circumstances. It changes us.
By the power of the Holy Spirit, the presence of God that I experienced on Sunday is with me today, too, as I sit in my office working my way down a lengthy “to do” list. The glorious joy I felt as the music lifted my soul is accessible to me again if I will simply slow down, breathe a prayer and be still before God, even for a moment. The holy awe of worship is something I can bring with me into every encounter I have with the people who cross my path. I can be on the lookout for the “angels in our midst” and listen more carefully for announcements of God’s activity in the ordinary events that demand my attention. And, it’s all because of a baby who had the most extraordinary birth announcement ever:
But the angel said to the shepherds, “Do not be afraid; for see, I am bringing you good news of great joy for all the people: to you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, who is the Messiah, the Lord. This will be a sign to you: you will find a child wrapped in bands of cloth and lying in a manger.” And suddenly there was with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host, praising God and saying, “Glory to God in the highest heaven, and on earth peace, goodwill among all the people.” (Luke 2:10-14)
May you know the joy of God’s peace this Christmas.