Friday, December 21, 2007
I'm working on my Christmas Eve homily. I know you are, too, many of you. I spent yesterday afternoon waiting for my car to be realigned or my tires to be rotated or something (the car was pulling hard to the right; I'd had a nasty encounter with a pothole in late October, in which I'd damaged a rim and a tire beyond repair; my snows had been put on, and it had been pulling ever since). While I waited, in the spiffy new waiting room at my car dealer's service area, I did my scripture study (I'm preaching from the Luke 2 passage). While I did my scripture study, people around me talked on their cell phones, some loudly, doing business, some quietly, answering calls and then getting off as quickly as possible. I resisted the (admittedly not terribly strong) temptation to say, "Hey, people: working with the Word of God here?"
I think I have a direction... something like, how we get to Bethlehem, playing on the etymology of 'Bethlehem' as Hebrew for 'House of Bread.' How do we get to the place where we are fed? How does this story, so familiar yet endlessly new and deep, feed us?
Thing is, I want to preach a certain kind of sermon. I know you do too, many of you. Christmas, like Easter, bears a burden in the life of a preacher. It carries the load of significance born of the fact that, for one thing, it will have a larger "audience" than any other sermon preached during the year. And because of that, it offers a unique opportunity. It's not coincidence that I find myself wanting to preach on how people are fed by scripture. I have a desire to place in their minds and hearts the seed that scripture might just feed them at other times than Christmas Eve.
New Church has a tradition of celebrating communion on Christmas Eve. I am so glad about this. This is something many Presbyterian Churches don't provide on this occasion. Despite sincere denominational efforts to help Presbies move into a more sacramental way of living (which is more scriptural, by definition), there is resistance. But I have the blessing of the opportunity to draw connections between the story of the birth and the story of the table.
Last Sunday I was very stressed all morning before the service because of those damned high G's. I was really fearful that my voice, which is normally one of my slam-dunk attributes, would not come through for me. I was more nervous about that service than any I had ever led. Then something interesting happened. The service began, and at the Children's time, I found myself reading "The Donkey's Dream" by Barbara Helen Berger. As I read the story, about a donkey carrying a load on a long journey, and dreaming he was carrying a fountain, a ship. a rose, and a "lady full of heaven," I found myself caught up in its spell. By the time it was over, I had entered with the children into the realm of dreams and symbols, an endlessly deep story that still has the capacity to open the heart.
As the service progressed my anxiety was gone. I think I had realized that my ministry could not be reduced to successful hitting of high notes in one piece of music on one Sunday. To experience it that way was to do it violence. Similarly, it cannot be reduced to one sermon, even one Christmas Eve sermon. One preacher I know says of Christmas Eve and Easter, "The story will carry the day. Just get out of the way." That's pretty good advice.