Pastor Andy Romstad
Cambridge Lutheran Church
Once, as a child, my late father got so excited about Christmas, he threw up. Worse yet, he threw up at the Christmas Eve dinner table. That wasn’t appetizing. Maybe it was grandmother’s lutefisk. All we know is he claims he was so excited about Christmas, he just vomited.
Christmas will do that to you.
One Christmas eve, growing up in Richfield, the Swedish Meatballs burned while we were at church. The house filled with smoke. Our canary died of smoke inhalation. Mother got upset. We had to open every door and window in freezing temperatures. We went to Grandma’s.
Later, we went to 11 p.m. Christmas Eve service and sang Christmas Carols. That’ll make you feel better. You can’t wreck Christmas Carols. That has always been our favorite service —11 p.m. We could never understand singing “Silent Night” at 3:00 in the afternoon. How do you fully enter into the story of the Star over Bethlehem when the sun is shining? Something seems lacking. We all have our biases.
Now at our church the 11 p.m. “Midnight Mass” has been moved to 10 p.m. with the early “late service” at 9 p.m. I lost that battle years ago when the music director informed me that a rebellious group of choir members were threatening mutiny. Most people like to go early. I hope it is not to “get it out of the way”—another checkmark on our task list.
In our family, nearly every year, we’d come home from the 11 p.m. Christmas Eve service, bring home friends or relatives we’d seen at church, build a fire in the fireplace and sit up until 1:30 in the morning, telling stories. Mom would make a pot of coffee—regular.
Christmas Eve can feel magical. Beauty and imagery shine forth. “The light shines in the darkness and the darkness has not overcome it.”
Imagination, creativity, beauty, emotion—they will always trumps logic or rational doubt. I don’t think God talks us into believing as much as God captures us.
That is what the late Malcolm Muggeridge said. In the Holy Land to make a BBC video to debunk crazy Christian Christmas stuff, he instead was captured by it. Sitting by the site of Jesus birth, seeing the tears of pilgrims, something happened to him. “A curious, almost magical, certainty seized me about Jesus’ birth, ministry and Crucifixion,” Muggeridge wrote.
Scripture reminds us, “’My ways are not your ways,’ says the Lord.” Christmas shows us that: Virgin birth, teenage mom, child of God, born in a barn. An event foretold long in advance, celebrated long afterward. A counter-cultural God bypasses our expectations—“and a little child shall lead them.”
I hope you’ll gather somewhere on Christmas Eve—no matter what your faith or lack of it—for something more than food or merriment. Gather somewhere for meaning and music and moments of mystery.
“Where two or three are gathered in my name, I am there among them,” Jesus said. Sometimes God speaks through people near us.
That is what Muggeridge suggests: “Seeing a party of Christian pilgrims at one of these shrines, their faces bright with faith, their voices as they sang, so evidently and joyously aware of their Saviors nearness … I, too, became aware that there really had been a man, Jesus, who was also God—I was conscious of his presence.”
I’ve heard the Christmas Eve story before. I know the songs they’ll sing. I still go. I’ve been invited. So have you. Something always seems to happen deep in the soul.