Why Christmas Eve Service?
What happened last year, was repeated again this year at the Stony Creek Congregational Church in picturesque Stony Creek, Branford, without any preconceived expectations that it would. From the setting and the sermon of the Reverend James, to the singing of the carols and hymns in the beautiful and cozy church, I was moved with the all too familiar waves of feeling that I have become accustomed to over the last twenty-three months since my wife died of pancreatic cancer.
Of all the things I truly enjoyed and found significant in some meaningful way, it was the service I attended with my mother-in-law last year and last night, that touched a place in me that was the food I was hungry for. It was exactly the sounds, the words, the air that I yearned to breathe and wanted to feel infusing into my blood.
Maybe it is the strong connection that Emilee had to the church itself. The building is lovely, and I can feel the history when I am there, and I feel the life of the stained-glass windows and the wood and stone of its construction. Maybe it is because it is a spiritual gathering. Reverend James’ talk always seems to be speaking straight to me and my heart.
He spoke of the meaning of this holiday, and the meaning of the birth of Jesus Christ, the One who offered hope in a rather bleak and chaotic political atmosphere at that time in history. Things were not good back then. People were under Roman rule, people were being used as slaves, there were many warring factions. The lives of the native inhabitants of the region were not valued much by the rulers. It was not peaceful.
This year he talked about how some people view going to church as an interruption of the holiday. Especially children, and even his own recollections of childhood conjured thoughts of how going to Church felt like an intrusion on the fun of the holiday. Some, children and adults, still feel that it almost gets in the way.
Interesting, since at least for now, and especially interesting since I am a Jew, going to the service is the only part of this holiday that…. That what? That opens my heart to all that I am feeling? That connects me to Emilee? That connects me to Spirit that I feel inside me all the time, but is particularly strong at this season? This season, which was a strong favorite of holidays and times of the year in Em’s book of favorites?
I love to sing. So, add the setting, Reverend James’ words that hit home and are very here and now and present for me, the tradition of the setting, and the singing of the carols and hymns, and I am primed to feel. I feel a mixture from pure joy when singing my heart with other voices, to such deep sorrow, along with both memories of the past, feelings of loss, and the exquisite gratefulness of the sweet breath of the present, that I am at times just overwhelmed and my eyes runneth over. When Reverend James said this is a time and a place to feel deeply, feel the ache and the sorrow and, also to feel the joy, the jubilance and the liveliness of spirit, I knew I was exactly where I was supposed to be. I felt similarly last year.
When I shook his hand after the service and mentioned how much I enjoyed his words, I could not help the involuntary gush, as I said, “Obviously I have the part of ‘feel free to allow the tears’ down pat quite well”, which helped bring back a smile to my face. His face expressed a look that was one of knowing and compassion.
I intend to continue this tradition of the Christmas Eve service, next year, Spirit willing. It continues to be the high point for me, in a rather difficult time of year. And somehow, with all the lows and highs of emotion, I feel more at peace when I leave the service, than when I walked in. To me, that is the magic of Christmas.
May that feeling of hope and light transfuse into the hearts of many. May the world and especially my country as part of this world, find its way back to the light in a very difficult time. May Spirit gives us strength to make it so.