I had mixed feelings during the first part of the Christmas Eve service last week. We were reminded of the violence that has been so much in the news recently. We were reminded of the sad and at times desperate world we live in. This, we were told, is not unlike the world that the Baby Jesus came into all those centuries ago. If we even look at the Christian events of this week we will be reminded first of the first martyr in the stoning of Stephen followed by the slaughter of the innocents a couple days later. Yesterday was the Saint's day for Thomas Becket, martyr.
I wanted to yell-
Stop! Can't we have one day when we forget all this? Can't I come in here, into a sanctuary on a silent night and not have to face the hatred and anger of the world? I want to escape!The answer came back:
No, you can't escape. Because of that little Baby, you must not escape- and you no longer need to.All the sweetness of Christmas was lost in a moment. I have been as guilty as anyone for fostering the cuteness and almost fairy tale like quality of the evening. I have fifteen years of stories written for Christmas Eve that have that element to them.
Ah, wasn't that cute! So nice.Yes, some of the stories had an edge to them. A drug addict was in one; a hostage situation in another; lost and lonely people in most of them. But it was so easy for people to hear the "happy ending" usually with some mystical or magical realism element to it and feel good- the wonder of Christmas allowing them to escape into a world of fantasy, allowing the Christmas story to give them a moment's respite from the world.
But that is not what the stories- or Christmas- are all about. It is not about escape. It is about redemption, salvation, release of captives, hope in a God who would come into our midst in a feeding trough crib behind the inn. It is about grace.
Grace is my all-time favorite word. I over use it. I add it to most of my "prayer" comments on Facebook. Grace. It is what we need to experience and learn. Grace. It is our being accepted by our Creator no matter what.
I then thought of the words I had already chosen for today's picture for the season. They come from the hymn, I Heard the Bells on Christmas Day. It was a poem/hymn written in the midst of the Civil War. It starts with the same hopelessness that I was sensing as we were reminded of the ways of death and hate, anger and fear spreading throughout the world today. There is no peace on earth the writer cried out. This is all a facade, perhaps even a sham.
No, came the pealing of the bells. This is the story that God has not given up on us. This is the story that God is very much alive and ready to support us. Peace on earth is not a way of escape- it is a way of living the life of God among us.
At that point I realized that it isn't about taking an hour or so on December 24 and escaping from the news; it is about being renewed in order to confront that news bombarding us every day. It is about knowing that there is a peace that we can never explain that will lead us- not away from the world, but back into the world with the message.
I didn't get what I wanted on Christmas Eve- an escape from reality. I got what is needed- the reminder that God is very much alive and calling me- and all- into a different way.
As usual, God was at work when I was willing to listen.
That, I have come to know, is what Grace can give me. What a gift.