But Mary treasured all these words and pondered them in her heart. The shepherds returned, glorifying and praising God for all they had heard and seen, as it had been told them. (Luke 2:19-20)
David and I had been married about a year and a half when we moved from rural Ohio to Mayview, Missouri. I was beginning as the sole pastor in that farming community where I was also the very first woman pastor anyone had ever met. Christmas Eve at Zion United Church of Christ had its own special traditions including the children’s pageant, a beautiful rendition of O Holy Night by one of the members, concluding with Silent Night sung in German. Our firstborn, Anne, arrived while I pastored there, so at the ripe age of 3, she became an angel in the pageant. That particular Christmas Eve, the weather turned ugly, first with rain, then sleet, ice, and snow. The streets were as glassy as a skating rink. I was tasked with the difficult decision of canceling the Christmas Eve service. These were the days without email or cell phones, so we did it the old-fashioned way – by phone tree. We were all saddened, but we knew that safety on the roads was far more important than gathering together that night.
So, what is a pastor to do on Christmas Eve without leading a worship service? We made our own. David and I listened to Christmas carols and even sang along with our sweet Annie. We read the Night Before Christmas and marveled at the beauty all around us. Trees glistened with icicles, snow covered the branches until they were bowed down, and the landscape outside was a winter wonderland. In front of a warm fire, a holy silence descended as we celebrated the birth of the Christ Child coming into the world.
This Christmas Eve will also be very different for our family. It’s been over thirty years since that quiet evening, but it seems like we will be repeating a sunny version of that Christmas this year. It will be just us at home, creating our own celebration of the Christ Child. I’m reminded of the power of this carol:
“How silently, how silently, the wondrous gift is given
So God imparts to human hearts the blessings of God’s heaven.
No ear may hear him coming but in this world of sin,
Where meek souls will receive him still, the dear Lord enters in.”
O Little Town of Bethlehem
For those suffering in body or in spirit
Holy One, so often you enter our world quietly, waiting for acknowledgment from us. You arrive so gently that we often miss your presence. Open our hearts to recognize that we are standing on sacred ground. Ready us to see your epiphanies happening all around us in this Christmas season. In Christ. Amen.