As we celebrate epiphany it reminds me how easy it is to get so caught up in the glitter of Christmas that you might miss the beautiful opportunities the Christmas season brings. Amid the time constraints, the gifts to buy, the parties to attend, the decorations and cards…did you experience Christmas?
This year our church had many wonderful services. You could invite a friend to enjoy a wonderful musical presentation of the meaning of Christmas that literally ended in the Halleluiah Chorus. You could attend a candlelight Christmas Eve service where you can count on the dimming of the church lights while you sing Silent Night holding a lit candle. All of these are special and meaningful to me and others. But there was a new Christmas offering that ended with low attendance from the congregation, yet it was my favorite Christmas service of the year.
Our congregation showed up in amazing ways by collecting and bringing bags filled with necessities and a soccer ball, and personal cards and handmade ornaments were encouraged. This took effort. You had to include the specific items on your shopping list, pack the heavy items into a specific bag you previously picked up at church, and then remember to bring it back by a certain deadline. The generosity of our church is overwhelming when it comes to these requests. We joined with two other Christian communities to bring the concert, and our church took on the heavy aspects of the budget including stage crew, portable potties, and security, which do not come cheap. You can depend on us to give generously; we are always up to the challenge. Yet the ask went further. The congregation was asked to come to a certain place in the middle of the busy Christmas season to fight for parking in a shadier part of town and sit on hard chairs while getting to know people from “All the Nations” who live in our neighborhood. It required a lot of us. We had to carve out an entire afternoon, from 1:30-4:30 p.m. to listen to other people’s children sing their version of Christmas songs. We heard amateur bands performing in languages other than our own, and Luke’s Christmas story read in a variety of different languages. There was fair-like atmosphere all around the outdoor arena where hot dogs, hot chocolate and popcorn were free for a ticket you received at the entry. Those stands were full of God’s servants from our church. Most were the regulars who show up every time, and have become experts at cooking and serving hotdogs like a pro.
Yet, the concert area was missing our people. We were not there sitting among the neighbors as we were encouraged to do. We were invited to come and sit and enjoy this concert and be the light of Christ. That’s all. The job was to sit and enjoy the Christmas presentation and meet our neighbors. I saw a deacon or two sitting among the crowds but not the congregation, not the 1000 families who prepared a bag for the occasion. They weren’t there to meet the families their bags would treat. It’s easy to imagine that they were just too busy with the other pressures of a Saturday in December; after all, the soccer games, birthday parties and sales are scheduled for that same time frame. There were so many things that kept them from the three-hour time commitment. I believe the people didn’t show up to sit and enjoy the concert and be the light of Christ as they were instructed because they did not realize the value of their presence. They valued their bags filled with gifts—they were told that it would only cost $15-20 at the Dollar Store to fill it, however I noticed the bags were filled with extra love and name brand items that cost more than the suggested expense.
But what of the value of presence? Where was the light of Christ? It was there sparkling from around the edges, in the faces of people who were there. There was love; there was light. It could have been brighter if we understood the value of the light of Christ inside of each of us Christians.
My epiphany is a little different than the wise men. Instead of following the light, I see that I am the light. Let your light shine. You can’t imagine how satisfying it is at Christmas and all year long. Matthew 5:16 says: “In the same way, let your light shine before others, that they may see your good deeds and glorify your Father in heaven.” Don’t forget the light that shines through you!