The theme for Christmas this year was “what makes Christmas feel like Christmas?”
This was the first Christmas in several years that I did not have any church duties. I ALWAYS have church duties. I’m either reading or singing or coordinating or greeting at at least one, usually more than one, Mass. One year I sang at three Masses between Christmas Eve & Christmas Day, including a last minute duet during the Carols before Midnight Mass. I moved about a year ago, though, and I haven’t quite found my place at the church that I sometimes go to. So no church duties this year. And that was really quite strange for me. It might have been the first time in a decade that I didn’t have some responsibility at Christmas.
I did go to Midnight Mass at this new church I’m trying out. This church… it is one of the friendliest churches I’ve ever been to. I like the Pastor. Sometimes I’m not super-fond of the music (I’m a music-nerd. Have mercy.) but the people are so… nice. And the liturgical ministers are so… joyful. Did I mention the people are nice? I sat next to a family with 4 daughters, and one of them, who was probably about 13, asked me if I was by myself, wished me a Merry Christmas, admired my purse, and was just great. It was lovely.
The homily was… not. It was preached by the Deacon (the in-training type, not one of the permanent variety) and he stretched the text a bit. Actually, that’s not quite true. He preached on the Good Samaritan. If you’re confused, then you’re in good company. There was something about the Innkeeper, and how we’re like the man beaten on the road, who apparently rejected the help of the priest and the Levite, which is what we’re like as sinners, and the Samaritan is Jesus. This is an interpretation that Augustine used, to which I 1) roll my eyes and 2) take bets as to the Deacon’s coursework last semester. Whether it’s an appropriate interpretation or not, though, I don’t think it’s the right homily for Christmas. Mostly because 1) it’s not the text and 2) it’s Midnight Mass. People need to feel good. Some of those people haven’t been to church since Easter, and guess what — you just confused them on a story they thought they knew well by introducing a questionable interpretation with a VERY flimsy thread to Christmas.
I wish I had the discipline to end my rant here, but this was the SECOND homily at this church in ONE week where the Deacon did not preach the text. On the 4th Sunday of Advent, the Deacon preached on John 1.
I don’t get it. Well, I do. Too often we preach what we wish we could preach, regardless of the text. I used to really understand this, because as a student preacher I only preached once a quarter or so, and I wanted to make it count. I wanted to spread the Good News! People needed to hear the WORD! Too many times I started with what I thought people should hear me say, and not with what God was saying. Thankfully, God corrected me. There’s only one time I switched the text, and that was for my senior service at Drew, and that was mostly because there was a song I really wanted to use, and the text didn’t quite match. Hey, I wanted to go out with a bang. (I did. We even had a drumming circle.)
My point is that the Lectionary is how we get through The Story, and if our leaders skip ahead or jump around at their whims (or worse, because of their hubris) we’ll get lost. And honestly, I have enough trouble along The Way. So, a gentle suggestion to help the pilgrims: PREACH THE TEXT.
OK, now I can end my rant.
When I came home, I waited until Actual Midnight and put Baby Jesus in the Creche. Then I lit the candles in my Advent Wreath, including a white one for Christ. (I always thought this was the tradition — the United Methodist Church I served for several years always lit the Christ Candle at the Candlelight Service, but apparently not all churches do that. Hmmm.) On Christmas night, I moved the Shepherd into the creche. And the Doctors, because if I had a TARDIS, I totally would go to the Birth of Jesus.) I colored a simple Nativity scene. And I put Mary in the center of the wreath.
And then I spent some time thinking about what makes Christmas feel like Christmas… and what makes me feel like a Christian. I’m still sorting that out.
BONUS: Speaking of preaching the text: