I was once asked to preach for a Christmas Eve service for pastor with a stomach virus. (What are you going to do if you’re a pastor with a stomach virus on December 24th? You find someone who can preach in your place.) I’ve never forgotten that night and not because of the other pastor’s stomach virus.
After the homily, we were going to celebrate communion, so the elders stood there waiting in front of the communion table to take the trays of bread and wine. And they looked extraordinarily stressed out.
“Are we standing in the right place?” one of them whispered to me looking terrified. Her lip was literally trembling.
They (the elders) seemed to be standing in the appropriate place but they all looked like they were lining up for execution. They were terrified that they were doing Christmas Eve wrong.
Turns out their pastor (the one with the stomach virus) regularly berated parishioners for everything from “standing in the wrong place” to lighting candles “the wrong way.”
This makes baby Jesus weep.
Since when do people believe they are not doing worship “right”? Actually, our worship can indeed be wrongheaded (i.e. we make it about us and not God) but I’m pretty sure God doesn’t care where we stand or how we light the candles.
This is the season of children’s pageants that perennially include mishaps – if not shepherds dressed like Spiderman. This is the season where a Christmas Eve candle is likely to drip wax on the carpet or the office staff doesn’t print enough bulletins or the pastor gets a stomach virus.
This is the season when we prepare for the God we need rather than the God we think we want. This is the season when we remember that the birth of the Messiah was first announced to the lowly rather than the mighty in circumstances more familiar to a homeless child than a prince.
We can’t mess up – unless we choose to make Advent about us rather than about God with us. So many parts of religious life are about things that are supposed to nourish us (prayer, scripture, service) but we have conflated what God wants with what we want – a pretty holiday season with everybody lined up in proper order.
For I desire steadfast love and not sacrifice, the knowledge of God rather than burnt-offerings. Hosea 6:6
It’s about love. It’s about knowing God.
No matter what anyone says, the only way we can “ruin Advent” is to make Advent about something else. May your Advent days be full of love.