Thursday, December 15, 2011

Why Do We Worship on Christmas Eve?

This was an article that I wrote for the Courier=Times on December 17th, 2011.

This time of year I have visions of my childhood. I see candles being held by countless people. I see a sea of illumined faces singing of how silent a particular night was long time ago. I see families gathered together to lift up the name of their Lord. I see a well-worn ancient book opened to particular pages and read by people that have been shaped by the book.

These visions of my childhood remind me of the gathered church coming together on that “Silent Night” — that “Holy Night”. Some of my fondest memories growing up have to do with my family going out into the dark and cold of the night to worship the God who came in the flesh. This was a time to worship the God who was radical enough to be born like one of us. This God is Jesus Christ who is the Lord of lords and the King of kings.

In my first few years of living in Roxboro, I was shocked at how few people actually gather for worship on Christmas Eve. Countless folks would respond to my shock by saying that they were gathering together with family in different homes or out of town to do “Christmas”. I would then say: “Well, you know that they are invited to worship Jesus as well, and you know there are churches in other towns that gather for worship.”

Recently there has been a constant barrage of criticism at corporations and organizations that are attempting to be politically correct by saying: “Happy Holidays”, rather than “Merry Christmas”. I have heard this criticism emerge from the so-called Christian community. But I would ask, if we think that we are to remember that Jesus is the “reason for the season”, then I can think of no better way to remember the incarnation then by gathering together and worshiping the God who came in the flesh. This time of worship should then stir within us a desire to go and serve Jesus as the church he has called out of darkness into his wonderful light.

The word Christmas has evolved over the centuries. Christmas began as the “Christ Mass”, which was celebrated by the church over a millennium ago. This “Christ Mass” would be a gathering of the church to remember the incarnation of Jesus and then celebrate his coming in the flesh through communion.

What the “Christ Mass” has evolved into is what many churches call the Christmas Eve Candlelight Service. At this service there traditionally is the reading of Luke 2, the singing of hymns, a reflection on how we are changed by the incarnation, the partaking of the Lord's Supper, and the lighting of individual candles as everyone sings “Silent Night”.

This is a time for all of us to remember that Christmas is not about us, and it is not about our desires and wants. Instead, we remember that the God of the universe came and was born in a feeding trough.

This year, bring your whole family to a Christmas Eve Candlelight Service. If your particular church doesn't have a service then encourage your pastor to begin one. Grab a candle and gather with others as we go out into the night worshiping the God who came to us. Spend some time around the manger throne this season because we are given an opportunity to gaze in and reflect on God's great love for us.

No comments: