A couple weeks back, we celebrated our “Lessons and Carols” service on the Sunday after Christmas. Technically, this Sunday is known as the “First Sunday” in the Christmas season, which, as the old song tells us, lasts for 12 days (until Epiphany). So Christmas was still very much in the air as we sang favorite carols, and heard the lessons of scripture from Genesis to Luke, lessons about how God creates and recreates, making and keeping promises to make all things new. At the end of the service, in the Time for All Ages, I challenged the children to look for ways that God is making a difference in their lives. In the new year, I hope that they (and folks of all ages!) will notice the little and big ways in which God is at work, creating and recreating the world.
It was really a blessing to share my first Christmas here at Union with all of you, as well as all of the extended families and other visitors we welcomed into our sanctuary on Christmas Eve. The candlelit service was an inspiring time together, with full pews and even fuller hearts. Afterwards, many people shared the same sentiment with me: “wouldn’t it be wonderful if the church was filled like this on Sunday?”
Christmas Eve was a beautiful reminder that being in church—lighting candles, singing carols, hearing the message of Good News together with friends and neighbors and strangers—that is still something special and important. It’s something we want to share, as Jesus called us to do (Matthew 5:16); but it always seems like there are fewer and fewer to share with.
Perhaps it is simply that being a part of a congregation, participating regularly in worship, just doesn’t make a difference in people’s lives the way it once did. There are so many other community programs and events to attend; people work so much, or are committed to being with their families. Where, in these tumultuous times, does one find the time to give to a church: to God and to our neighbors? And what difference does it make to spend that hour on Sunday morning in the Church by the Park?
I remain convinced that it does make a difference in people’s lives to be a part of this caring community. And I also know that this church makes a difference in our neighbors lives, too. It’s the reason people still come when they can; the reason children are still being baptized, why people call when they are in need of help, or when they are sick or grieving. Being the Church is about making a difference—because through the life of Christ, God enters into our world and is doing new things.
For us here at Union, this new year offers us the chance to reflect upon the successes of the past year, as well as look ahead to how we can make a difference in this new year. But most of all, I hope we can discern together how God is making us different as a church: giving us new life, refocusing our attention, and opening up new possibilities. Where is the Epiphany Star leading us? Where shall we go to find and live into the Love and Justice of Jesus? Who will we be to our neighbors in need, to our families, to one another? I look forward to seeking the answers to these challenging questions together.
In the closing words of Charles Dickens’ classic A Christmas Carol, the transformed Ebenezer Scrooge is described in this way: “it was always said of him, that he knew how to keep Christmas well, if any man alive possessed the knowledge. May that be truly said of us, and all of us! And so, as Tiny Tim observed, God bless Us, Every One!”
Let’s keep Christmas well this year in our life together; that is how we will make a difference, with God’s help.