When I was about 10 years old, I was in church one evening during a revival. My dad would host pastors from all over about once a year when I was growing up, and we'd have a revival: weeknight services that culminated in a Sunday morning celebration of faith renewal and sometimes new commitments. It was in one of those weeknight services that I had my very first heart-warming experience. I still remember which pew I was sitting in at the First UMC of Commerce, Georgia. The preacher was the (now deceased) Rev. Wallace Chappell from the Nashville area. His son and grandson are elders in the North Georgia Conference today. I don't really remember exactly what he was talking about, but I remember that feeling. I had it again in the chapel at Camp Glisson when I was 16. The preacher was the Rev. Macalister Hollins, and he gave an invitation for people to come forward and pray if we were feeling the call of God in our lives to some kind of ministry. I have felt it many times since whenever I am reminded of what God is doing in the world and where God has called me to help. I have felt it in our sanctuary in some of our most important worship moments together, including every year on Christmas Eve at the last verse of Silent Night when we hold our candles high and sing, "Silent night, holy night, wondrous star, lend thy light. With the angels let us sing, "Alleluia!" to our King. Christ the Savior is born! Christ the Savior is born!”
I will miss that this year. A large gathering for drive-in worship on Christmas Eve is too risky, so we will not be holding that service. Please know that this makes me as sad as it makes you. It is one more disruption in our life together in this Body of Christ. It is one more opportunity we won’t have to be together.
So much of our daily routines have been disrupted for almost a full year. For almost a year we've been making small and large decisions on a regular basis about everything from employment to retirement to how to keep from getting and spreading COVID-19. For almost a year we've been anxiously waiting for things to get better, believing that they will at any time and then being more and more disappointed when they don't. Like you, just about everything about the way I live my life has changed. Joy is attending school in our house through a device. We don't really go inside any building regularly other than the grocery store and the post office. I go to the church one or two times a week on average. Before this pandemic, I spent many of my waking hours there or back and forth between there and your homes or other places where ministry takes place in the community and beyond. I don't do that now. I now see you on screen and talk with you primarily on the phone, which I will accept because it is better than not seeing you or talking with you. But my heart is so very sad about not being in a sanctuary, doing the thing I was made to do, sharing the message of the incarnation with a lonely world, and lighting candles in the darkness to give us hope that something better is coming.
So, let’s decide NOT to be derailed and disrupted so that we can’t celebrate Christmas together. Instead, let’s decide to light the candles and share the message—just in a new way! Join me on Christmas Eve in one of three opportunities to “gather”:
The virtual Christmas Pageant produced by our children’s ministry, available all day on Christmas Eve and beyond on our YouTube channel (Embry Hills UMC) and on our Facebook page (Embry Hills United Methodist Church).
A virtual Christmas Eve worship service with Silent Night and candlelight available all day on Christmas Eve and beyond also on our YouTube channel and Facebook page.
Candlelight Live At 5:45 pm on Zoom (https://bit.ly/CandlelightLive2020 access code 3304) or Facebook live on our EHUMC Community group page: a live video call with me from the Sanctuary to light candles, pray together, and sing Silent Night. There will be packets of supplies for this experience (including a candle, the zoom link and Facebook live information, and the prayer we will pray together) available at the church starting Sunday, December 20 in a large plastic bin outside the entrance to the Family Life Center. Please feel free to come and take as many as you need for your household to participate. Take one to a neighbor and invite them to join in!
Candlelight Live at 6:15 pm on the front lawn of the church. I’ll be standing there wearing my mask with my candle to pray and sing Silent Night. You are welcome to join me wearing your mask with your own candle and lighter. Space is very limited so please sign up at https://bit.ly/candlelightonthelawn2020
Jesus will come no matter how we gather or don’t gather. That is the miracle of Christmas. We can neither make it happen nor prevent it. It is Emmanuel: God with us. I’m so grateful this year that nothing can disrupt that.