Text: Luke 2:21-40 (Jesus presented in the Temple)
At the Christmas Eve services on Monday, I appreciated remembering the eight Christmas’s before this one at which I have been a minister. I hope that like me, you enjoyed our gatherings on Monday and left them with feelings of hope and joy.
Another side of the church’s stress on Christmas Eve is the relief that ministers feel when these candlelight gatherings have passed.
This morning before I open the floor for sharing, I have a few words about what has come after the Christmas Eve services at which I presided.
The first one was nine years ago in Didsbury here in Alberta. In 2009, I was a student supply minister at Knox United in Didsbury. As I quickly learned, an important variable for ministers is the day upon which Christmas Eve falls. In 2009, it was on a Thursday. This meant that I spent a quiet Christmas Friday in Olds where I was renting a room from a college teacher and returned to Knox on Sunday morning December 27 to lead a First Sunday After Christmas service.
After that service, I drove to Edmonton to stay in my sister’s condo and to enjoy a few days getting to know the city better. On January 1, I returned to Olds to prepare for a January 3 Sunday service.
My next Christmas Eve as a paid minister was two years later in 2011 in my Settlement charge in southern Saskatchewan. I had worked for six months without a break after arriving at Coronach in July. So, following Christmas Eve, I took a month’s vacation in Toronto and the Caribbean; and it was on this break that I first used the bus to travel to Regina. The bus was a milk-run, which meant that a one-way trip took four hours. I was struck by the fact that during my first hour on the bus, I was the only passenger, and when I returned from Toronto to Regina near the end of January, I was once again the only passenger on the bus on its last hour to Coronach. This was another indicator of the isolation of the Borderlands pastoral charge.
In 2012, I took one week off after Christmas. This was the last time that I took advantage of a clause in my contract in Borderlands that allowed me take the fifth Sunday off in those three or four months per year in which there were five. I appreciated the concept, but it was awkward to arrange to be away for these three or four extra Sundays each year. Happily, this was not the case following a Sunday with three services and a Monday evening with three Christmas Eve services. A friend from Toronto came to visit me that week, and we enjoyed New Year’s Eve in Regina.
The 2013 Christmas Eve services, which fell on a Tuesday, were the final worship services I led in Borderlands, except for a release from covenant service in Rockglen the following Sunday on December 29. After that early afternoon service, I drove the two hours north to Moose Jaw. The next day, Monday December 30, I continued on to Edmonton to begin my life here.
My first Christmas Eve service at Mill Woods was in 2014. Following it, I took my last week of vacation for the year. This became a big experience as I spent time researching Pentecostalism and then worshipped on Sunday December 28 at the big-box Pentecostal church at 23rd Ave and 66 Street, the one now called “Hope City Church.” This lead to a sermon that I consider to be one of my most important.
The Christmas Eve service in 2015 was on a Thursday, and once again I took a final week of vacation after it. By this time, Kim and I were together, and we appreciated learning each other’s holiday traditions during our first Christmas together.
Christmas Eve 2016 was on a Saturday, and so the next morning, I gathered with a small group to reflect on the same Gospel reading from Luke we just heard. With Christmas Day and New Year’s Day both on a Sunday that year, we had small but meaningful gatherings on both days.
Last year, Christmas Eve was on a Sunday so we did something different. We held a “Christmas Eve Day” service at 10:30 in the morning, and a 7 pm candlelight service. Last year was difficult for me because I had spent six nights, from Sunday December 17 until Saturday December 23, in Toronto to be with my mother. She died on December 28. So, last year the aftermath of Christmas Eve was grief-stricken. Many people have sad memories at Christmas, and this has become one of mine.
After last Monday’s Christmas Eve services, I was tired. So I spent Christmas Day resting while Kim prepared a family Christmas Day meal. This was the second year in which members of both our families gathered at our place on Christmas Day, and I loved it. The rest of the week included a wedding rehearsal, a visit to a church member who is in the hospital, and some other small bits of work. After Christmas Eve, life goes on, including the challenging and gracious work of ministry.
In today’s Gospel reading, we heard a story of Jesus being named on the eighth day after his birth. This short reading contains a whole world of meanings, and I have enjoyed preaching on it in the past. It is also radically different from Matthew’s post-Christmas story, which we will hear next Sunday on Epiphany.
So, this year, instead of reflecting upon Luke’s text, I now open the floor. Do you have something you would like to share about Christmas Eve this year or a story from this past week. What follows Christmas Eve for you – this year, or any year? If want to share, just raise your hand and I’ll bring you the microphone.
. . . Thank you so much for that.
And now, to finish this time of Reflection, I have one more offering. Last week, I came across a video on the website of the New York Times about Christmas 50 years ago. In 1968, the first humans to fly to the moon beamed a TV broadcast back to earth on Christmas Eve. Their broadcast, and the pictures with which they returned, had a major impact on humanity’s awareness of the place of the earth in the cosmos and of the importance of environmental protection.
So, here now is that three-minute video . . .
I hope this reminder of a significant event will broaden our imaginations of what comes after Christmas Eve. For NASA, what followed Apollo 8 in December 1968 was two more manned spaceflights to the moon in the spring of 1969 followed by a third one in July in which Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin became the first humans to walk on the moon. This is an anniversary that many will mark next summer.
Apollo 8 also precipitated a new consciousness of the beauty, unity, and fragility of the earth and an obligation to give thanks for its blessings and to work to preserve it.
With this in mind, I now close with a prayer. May we end 2018 and start 2019 with thanksgiving for this good earth, love for its beauty and uniqueness, and intentions to work to cherish and preserve it both now and always.