During this launch of my blog, I have spent some time wondering what to write about. Sometimes it comes to me easy, and other times it takes some thought. On this Christmas Eve, I almost always reflect on a piece I wrote in 2014. I called it “A Simple Christmas”. A response to the far-flung shows in today’s churches. I want to share it again, as I know many may not have seen it the first time, and I think it is very relevant today.
The picture above is from First Christian Church in Fort Smith, Arkansas, but the story below was inspired by a little, rock church in Paris, Arkansas. I think on it most Christmas Eve nights just before falling asleep. I hope you enjoy, and maybe come away with a different spirit of Christmas.
In the cool crisp air, he ascends the uneven stairs. He wonders how old the building is, solid rock and mortar. Castle-like on this dark Christmas Eve. Chilled to the bone, the soft glow invites him in. Stained glass old and new line windows more than 75 years old.
Running a little behind, the church has filled up nicely. More people than on an average Sunday ever come. Some say it’s past its prime – half-dead, otthers see it still alive. Tired, maybe, but still moving. Doing a work in the community.
Old lighting warms dark oak beams and off white walls adorned with lighted garland. Poinsettias flow like water from the alter to the clearly-aged green carpeted floor. Candles are lit giving motion to the light in the sanctuary.
Noise fills the air, not from amps or sound systems. But from people – friends and families, familiar faces greeting one another and catching up on the latest in personal events.
A hush falls on the crowd as music, simple and pure, from an organ and piano play an old and familiar tune. Announcements are made followed by chimes, real chimes from bells, not synthesizers. Bells ringing throughout the town. Ringing in Christmas.
Songs are sung, not by professionals, not auto-tuned bands with smoke and lights before jumbo screens, but those who open themselves up before God. Worshipping with all they have to give.
The Word is opened and truth is spoken and read with no embellishments or human interpretations. The stories are familiar and the promises, oh the sweet, sweet promises shine as they always have. Never moving, the unshakable promises of God’s gift and sacrifice.
Voices rise, singing songs together. The old hymns and carols of the season. Read from simple paper. Something to touch. A tactile experience like holding a book being read. To be a physical part of the music.
The body is broken and the blood is shed. The grace of God at the table. Each row rises to partake of the supper. A quiet “God bless you” makes a connection. Fills your heart with a warmth, a knowledge that this is for me. Not some plate and cup passed, but a human element intended by God as a reminder – personal, not ritual.
Each then make a ring around the old church. Huddled together for lack of room. Like a family photo, all stand side-by-side waiting for what seems routine, but becomes extraordinary.
The lights go dim as small dots of light flicker to life. Like the promise of God’s Holy Spirit shinning outward. Not illuminating the holiday attire, jewelry, or hairdos, but faces. God’s creation in the simplest of light. Silent Night rings through the rafters, across the balcony, filling every nook and cranny with song.
He wonders In the still of candlelight if it was like this in the manger. Still and calm – simple. No spotlight, no man-made announcements or promotion. Yet people came. Speaking truth in the streets, on hills in the countryside with no microphones or big screen. Yet people came. And on the cross, dying for our sins, buried and rising to live forever and ever – they still come.
He leaves the simple stone church with the simplest of messages. God’s gift of his only Son, so that we may have everlasting life. So long as we believe in the gift of Jesus, God with us, and his sacrifice for us. Amen.
Matthew 11:28-30 – “Come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light.”