Sunday, January 8, 2012

The Christmas Post I Haven’t Taken Time to Write/Post

When I married my husband, I inherited a unique Christmas tradition.  Somewhere around 25 Christmases ago, his family attended the Christmas Eve service at their church and decided to eat dinner out with another family from the congregation.  Because it was Christmas Eve, nothing was open--except El Chico, a moderately priced, underwhelming Tex-Mex restaurant found primarily in the south.  (When I decided to write this post, I was surprised to find out that they now have locations in Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates...WTH?)
Over the years, this church service/meal together became a tradition, one that my children have now been a part of each time we’ve been in OK for Christmas.  Even though many restaurants are open on Christmas Eve now, we feel no need to change the venue.

One thing that made this year different was two key members of our party were missing.  My husband was deployed to Kyrgyzstan, and John, the oldest son of the other family, was away for an assignment (he’s a big-time super important journalist).  After he posted on FB from across the world that he was sad to be missing our church-Chico tradition, I promised him a rundown of the night’s events by midnight.
So...add 14 days to that midnight deadline, and here’s your promised post, John.  If you are reading this, and you are not John, I think you will still find something of substance on which to ruminate.
First, I should state that I grew up in a church with Christmas productions that would put Disney to shame.  Angels and live animals and caroling and costumes and lights and a real Baby Jesus and dancing and flagging and signing and singing.  All followed by a sincere call for God’s people to not forget that Baby Jesus would die on a cross one day for our sins.  That is not what the service is like at the traditional Presbyterian church in which my husband grew up.
In my memory, there have never been live animals, but the ministers have always attempted to do something a little fun during the family service (which makes some of the Presbyterians nervous).  Although not every attempt at fun has been successful from an entertainment standpoint, we always have something to talk about over our chips and salsa.
This year, the night started off with a worry wart moment from my sixty-year-old (trapped in a six-year-old) son, Will, who was very concerned that we were using real candles during the candle-lighting portion of the service.  He asked the usher if he could have a “safety” candle like the ones from last year, and when he was denied, he spent the rest of the service anxious about whether or not we would all survive singing “Silent Night” or die in a fiery Christmas inferno.
After walking in and finding our usual rows occupied by new people, we grumbled and bumped into each other until we found seats for our large party (which includes several families who don’t all come to dinner).  
The first thing we noticed were the multi-colored spotlights shining on the ceiling, after which someone (I can’t remember who) suggested we might be witnessing the first ever Presbyterian version of Jesus Christ Superstar.  Turns out, the spotlights were used to display an array of stars and then THE star on the ceiling during the scripture reading of Luke (during which three-year-old Ben asked, “Is this a long story?”).
Next, we opened the bulletin to find a recipe for ten-minute fudge, which seemed an odd addition, but we assumed it had something to do with the sermon.  (Note: it didn’t.  Just weird.)
When the service started, the music minister started singing a song none of us knew, a new Christmasy jingle to which Ben announced loudly, “This is not a real Christmas song.”  Shortly after, the congregation was asked to join in singing a “real” Christmas song to which one of the moms from our group (who shall remain nameless, but whose name rhymes with Roberta) announced even more loudly, “I don’t like this song.”
The service proceeded with very little to comment on.  I’m sure the sermon was nice, as the minister delivering it always has something profound to say, but I was busy supplying Ben with Fruit Loops and Cheez-its and trying to figure out why Will was hiding under the pew. 

Finally, we found ourselves at the moment we’d all been waiting for (Will more than others): the singing of “Silent Night.”  As the sanctuary lights dimmed and the fire light was passed from row to row, I focused my attention on the boys, who were standing in the pew between me and my sister-in-law.
Our candles were lit by the middle of the first verse, and all was calm, and all was bright.  Will’s anxiety seemed to ebb a little as we all held our candles in front of us.  (The members of our group sitting behind us commented that Will looked like the Statue of Liberty because he was holding his candle so high, aka as far away from his face as possible).  
By the third verse, I became transfixed on Ben’s tiny face.  He’s too little to know the words or understand what any of the traditions and rituals mean.  He knows about Baby Jesus, and he’s confused about Santa, and I’m sure he has no idea why we ate tortillas on Christmas Eve, but in that moment, when I was looking at the flame reflected in his big, blue eyes, it was the definition of Christmas.
Silent night, holy night
Son of God, love's pure light
Radiant beams from Thy holy face
With the dawn of redeeming grace
Jesus, Lord, at Thy birth
Jesus, Lord, at Thy birth
A few years ago, I had the honor of helping perform a baptism for one of my best friend’s baby.  During the baptism, I spoke about how if we are the hands and feet of God, then children are the face of God.  Ben’s face, full of excitement and curiosity, held everything that Christmas means to me.
Christmas is the start of something new, the fulfillment of promises, and redemption through simplicity.  When lived out in its true meaning, it is love’s pure light radiating through us.
As the song came to an end, the minister added a benediction, saying that as we go out into the world, we are to touch others with the light of God’s love.  Will, his eyes fixed on his still burning candle, shouted, “We can’t touch them!” and then added in a loud whisper, “That would be dangerous!”
My sister-in-law helped him blow out his candle as he started freaking out about the wax dripping through the hole in his plastic cup, and we gathered our things to go as “Go Tell It on the Mountain” played.
We finished the night with Mexican food and gifts for all, another Christmas Eve in the bag.  We missed you, John!  Merry Christmas and Happy New Year to you, and please don’t set any people on fire as you travel the globe.


  1. thanks leia! awesome recap. and i feel so special to be called out directly in one of your posts! ben is a genius on so many levels, and i'm sure my mom is thrilled about how fire-safe he's becoming. also: spotlights?! wtf. sorry i missed that one. merry new year and hope you guys are doing great. i'm sure i'll see ya before chips and salsa next year! -- john

  2. i think about that bit about the face of God a lot. especially when H is quietly sleeping, and there is nothing more beautiful in the world. i can just imagine Ben's face, lit with that candle. thank goodness for Grace in a crazy world.

  3. LOVE the part about seeing the face of God in children. I see it it often, myself, and it is so amazingly beautiful. (I also love the, "We can't touch them!" party - too funny!