True confessions . . . we recorded Christmas Eve worship on this past Monday night. There’s lots of recording going on at Grace right now, and to give our tech. and editing folk time to get through it and do the great job they do, we are on a tight schedule. I can tell you I was as nervous Monday night as I am ever likely to get. Partly because it was Dec. 20 and not the 24th so it felt weirdly out of place, but also because somehow it feels different this year – more expansive, more connective, maybe even deeper somehow. It was so odd, even to myself, to think it is somehow different this year, when literally everything has been different for at least the last 18 months, but it’s different even in it’s differentness only more. Now you understand why there were multiple do-overs at the recording session, I was sometimes talking just as confusedly as what I just wrote!
We are clearly NOT out of the pandemic, and yet there is a broader understanding of safe practices, vaccines for those who choose, and perhaps a more realistic picture of the long-term nature of what life is like living with a virus that continues to mutate and adapt. Perhaps last year was still a little bit of shock at the reality that we would not be in-person for yet one more holiday, that there wasn’t to be a sudden “ending” to the weirdness, and that grief and loss were walking beside us every step of the way.
This year all that has sort of settled in and rested itself upon us – for good or for not so much – we are carrying this particular piece of luggage for a longer journey than most of us imagined. I can’t explain how excited I am that we will be in-person as well as on-line this Christmas Eve, AND I can’t explain how worried I am because the numbers are once again spiking and the new variant is even more easily spread. We are not closing back down unless absolutely mandated, but that doesn’t mean the worry goes away for those of us hosting large events. My request is that whether you are coming to Grace or attending worship at another community, please use all the best safe-practice precautions and if you are in any way at risk, maybe simply worship on-line? It might be a little more entertaining when you know as you watch, that your pastor had multiple do-overs and let’s see if you can guess which parts she might have messed up and had to restart. Hint, watch/listen for a song whose lyrics include: “ding-dong merrily on high” and imagine the pastor immediately after it ends, getting up and accusing the musicians of singing a description/opinion of their pastor that night which I thought was uproariously funny . . . others? Not so much. I know, right? It was clearly very hilarious. For the musicians and probly the tech folk if I could have seen them behind the cameras, subtle and not so subtle eye rolls occurred.
The truth is that the sacred message of Christmas feels more important to communicate clearly this year maybe than any other. I’m not exactly sure why it feels that way to me, and perhaps I’m the only one, but somehow the lengthening days of the pandemic towards endemic need that great in-breaking of God’s presence in ways that are intensely real and starkly concrete. It’s more than a nice story we read every year, or hear Linus give to break the chaos of the Christmas Pageant stage, it is the creative God we love and who loves us, making that love real in a way that literally and spiritually changed and changes absolutely everything. It doesn’t magically end pandemics or humans being mean or violent with one another in disagreements about pandemics, however it DOES offer us the gift of knowing we are loved beyond understanding or limit or even mortality. We are loved through our regrets, failures, and unkindness, and we are loved into our forgiveness, our learning from those failures, and our willingness to allow kindness to grow – sometimes from ground zero. Bottom line? God’s love wins regardless of human success or failure – receiving that gift can literally change our lives! I want with more passion than maybe I’ve ever had before, I want people to hear and receive that gift in every way possible.
I may very well be a little “ding-dong merrily on high . . .” maybe you too? If that means the story is so real in our lives it tells and shows itself through our joy, nervousness, excitement, struggle, doubt, and our celebration, then Christmas has indeed come and keeps coming with each breath we take. And by the way, you’ll need to take a big one, breath I mean, if you sing the full Gloria (includes 33 notes) during the course of the song. And I’m sorry, but seriously, what other song do you get to say that steeple bells are “swung-un” and after o-ee o-ee o-ee-o the priest and people “sung-un”? Now that’s worth having to re-record part of a worship service for, don’t you think? Merry, merry Christmas good friends!!!