Tuesday, December 29, 2015
Lighthouse meets Candlelight
This past Christmas Eve was the forty-third of my life. And all forty-three have had their own magical merits. For most of them, I have experienced the quaint charm and familial Christmas warmth that surrounded the season of the religious settings where I have worshipped. The Christmas carols, the glow of lights, the pine-scented anticipation of what was to come, the singing of "O Holy Night", the raising of the candles at the quintessential moment of the night, and the closing finale of the lusty singing of "Joy to the World" are all a part of what has made these forty-three Christmas Eve moments special.
But to be honest, something in these moments has always been missing for me. Each year, as I heard the Christmas message read, of a peasant family giving birth to a peasant child in an abject and drafty barn, of three astrologer prophets in search of a star, of shepherds who were at the bottom the socio-economic scale and world of Middle Eastern culture there has always been something starkly incongruous about the whole evening. As middle class and upper class Protestant Americans made their way into the bedecked sanctuaries on Christmas Eve, something in the moment, when compared to the first Christmas in Bethlehem, was oddly cacophonous.
This past Christmas Eve at Mission Church, however, was the forty-three year exception. For the first time, I felt that we were somehow capturing a scintilla of what the actual first Christmas was all about. Why did I have this sense? Because Mission Street Church invited the women of the Lighthouse Women's Emergency Shelter in Oxnard to come to our worship service. The Lighthouse Women's Emergency Shelter is a safe space for women and their children who are fleeing domestic violence, substance abuse and economic challenges that they face in their every day lives. The shelter is located in one of the more impoverished areas of Oxnard.
Let me quickly paint the picture for you. We had our Christmas service at the Spanish Hill Country Club in Camarillo. Because of a gift by a private donor and a discount by the club itself, we were able to offer this truly transcendent setting for our Christmas Eve services. As people walked in the door, they were greeted by a table of free CD's of music made especially for Mission Street for all guests. Each guest was given a candle and a program as they made their way past a coat checking station. When they entered the main room, a roaring fire on the hearth with beautifully decorated Christmas trees on both sides, flickered and warmed the room. A crystal chandelier the size of a small swimming pool hung overhead. The room was perfect.
But, as I mentioned in the introduction of this blog post - also strangely NOT what Christmas is really about.
Then, right at 5:00, 30 women from Lighthouse Women's Emergency Shelter made their way from the courier vans that we rented for the occasion, to the main room. As they entered the room, with a roaring fire and a chandelier overhead, some of them began to cry with joy and appreciation. "This means so much to us," one of them told me, "This is truly special to be here." During the Christmas message that I gave from the front, all of them sat right on the front two rows. An occasional, "Amen," and "You say it preacher" was articulated by this incredible group women. They were listening like their life depended on it.
Afterwards, one of the women came up to me and said, "As soon as I get my life together a bit, I am going to come to this church. I just love what you are doing here! This is what I'm talking about. Thank you pastor."
As the evening came to close, I had this image and dream that shot through my mind. What if every Christian Church in America, on Christmas Eve, invited in a group of those in their community who were abject or marginalized in some way. What if the hurting, needy people that God first came to in the Nativity story were the same kinds of people that churches welcomed into their spaces this time of year. What if for one weekend during the year, people who were rich and poor, hurting and whole, broken and bound together came together to worship God in an elevated and transcendent worship space. For us it was an example of:
Lighthouse meeting Candlelight
And it was a beautiful thing to behold:
All For Now,