As I was sitting in church this morning listening to the Christmas cantata, it dawned on me that even though this is a different year (almost a different era even), and a different church in a different town, I could be witnessing exactly the same service I saw during the week of Christmas 40 years ago, and it made me very happy.
Back in the day, women wore dresses and men wore suits to church; services in general were more solemn and reverent, a bit more formal if you will. During the last Sunday service before Christmas Day, we are there again.
Please don’t get me wrong; I’m thrilled the world has loosened up. I love being able to wear jeans to church. I love that the people are becoming more real and authentic and hopefully less hypocritical; that fire and brimstone are not preached on every corner; that churches might finally be embracing love and forgiveness instead of brandishing the threat of hell and eternal damnation for the slightest of misdeeds.
All of these changes are fantastic, but along with advent and Christmas comes nostalgia. A longing for the past. We want to decorate with all the traditional ornaments that have hung on the tree for 50 years; we want to bake all the recipes that have been handed down through the generations; we want to sing the old songs that we remember from when we ourselves were little kids experiencing the magic of the holidays.
While we are watching our own children in the Christmas pageant, we could just as easily be looking at a film of ourselves at that age or even our parents. Sure the hairstyles and the clothing would be different, but what is the same is the sweetness, the innocence, the excitement, the love. It is shining out of every little face, and it is timeless.
And that’s one of the reasons we still tear up when the little ones fidget on stage and wave to their parents as they sing Away In a Manger. Yes, they are sweet and cute, but for a brief moment in time, the past and the present collide and meld. It’s the continuity between the generations. It’s the hope that the connections between past and present are still strong and will continue to future descendants.
It has been said that when singing in unison, the heartbeats of the choir members sync up. It is such a fitting example showing that when the choir lifts their voices, we truly have a unity, a working together instead of the discordant cacophony of an “every man for himself'' attitude that we live with for the rest of the year.
So today while the scriptures were read and the songs were sung, I may have missed the exact words of the message or even the actual message itself, but when I saw the handbell ringers taking their places, the children happily dancing and twirling during their number, the musicians coordinating their entrances and exits, and the choir lifting their voices in harmony and power, I got a message of peace on earth and goodwill to humankind. And maybe that was the message after all.