St. Augustine’s Episcopal Parish
This night is reserved for the bards and poets.
It calls the painter’s brush to life and sets the dancer’s feet en pointe.
On this night the teachers fall silent.
There will be no lecture,
hymn, chant, and high thanksgiving.
We do not gather during these dark hours to hear mysteries explained.
We gather to encounter the incomprehensible
issuing from the depths of our humanity.
This night we welcome the Holy seeking birth.
On this night eighteen years ago, a restless longing to encounter the great mystery of Christmas led me into this very room. It was a night much like tonight: quiet, gentle, and holy. There was a posture of simple, festive reverence before the presence of the God who deigns to be born into our midst as a child.
Eighteen years ago, on Christmas Eve of 1997, I was home in Arizona on my winter break from college, and I had already attended a Christmas Eve service with my family earlier in the evening. But something about that service at a Baptist church where I had spent a part of my childhood lit a fire beneath me to go searching for a different kind of Christmas celebration. I was sent looking for a Christmas with room for wonder, a Christmas with space in which it was okay leave questions unanswered, with time to sit in the presence of mystery, of the babe in the manger, his mother, Mary, Joseph, and the shepherds. So after my family’s festivities that night, I went searching for this kind of celebration, and somehow I made my way into this very sanctuary and slipped into a pew with my paper program and little candle, just like you have tonight. It was my very first time in an Episcopal church, and I had found what I was looking for.
I wonder what you’re looking for tonight? What or whom do you seek here in the darkness among these songs and stories? If you’re like I was eighteen years ago, and, quite honestly, like I hope I still am even as I stand here before you, you might not be exactly sure. You might have wandered in here after something like a dream nudged you out into the chill of this holy night. You might have followed something like a star from your home in a different tradition to kneel in worship among the pews of this sacred place.
From wherever you’ve come, however you’ve arrived, I welcome you to be fully here, to let your weight sink into your seat. I welcome you into the Great Mystery, into the Presence of the living God With Us. Come and encounter the One of whom the prophets and the angels sing. Come, like a poor shepherd or like a wizened sage, to bow before the vulnerable beauty of the child who changes everything. And like Mary, watch and listen and treasure all these things and ponder them in your heart. From wherever you’ve come, however you’ve arrived, on this night may you find Jesus, the son of Mary, the hope of our and every age.