A Different Christmas (2020)

By Rick Summy, Senior Pastor

I love everything about SOTV’s traditions around the celebration of Christ’s birth.

There’s the always marvelous GodZone/Zone 45 Christmas program with all of those kids on risers upfront singing their hearts out, the brave ones waving at their families. The standing-room-only Sounds of the Season concert demonstrates the depth and breadth of musical talent we are so fortunate to have in our congregation. The preschool re-enacts the Christmas story each year in a program that never fails to break the cuteness barrier. Then, there’s the OKs Christmas luncheon at which the pastors typically perform some kind of skit in which I am usually the butt of the joke. (Easy pickings.) The staff gathers for a potluck at which we wear our ugly Christmas sweaters or outfits.

But that’s all prelude, really, fun as it all is.

Our Christmas Eve worship services, all 10 of them usually, center our celebration. Always filled with expectant energy, the day starts out with two family-focused services, where kids of all ages see that Christmas centered on Christ can be just as magical as the secular version. Then come the big worship services where the pews are packed and overflow seating is the order of the day. The music is big and bright and beautiful, filling the sanctuary with sounds of joy. The gathering of such crowds to hear the Christmas story, sing together, and light candles pumps enough adrenalin into my system that it easily carries me through the long day. Then come the evening services. In the deepening darkness the Spirit seems to move like a whisper; the cadence a calming breeze. There is room to breathe. The special music, every bit as beautiful, comes in a solo here, a quartet there. The candlelight shines and the darkness does not overcome it.

When it is all said and sung, I find myself at home in the wee hours of Christmas morning still wide awake, my faith refreshed and my hope renewed.

But this is a different Christmas. None of that will happen the same way this year. No kid’s program. No OKs lunch. No staff potluck with sartorially questionable seasonal garments.

Not 10 worship services, but one, online. Maybe two in-person. Maybe.

Our outdoor, Drive-Through Live Nativity (December 19 and 20) with its several stations will be a sight to behold as the sound of familiar Christmas carols ring through the winter night. And, on Christmas Eve, we will gather in our cars in the parking lot, listen to the reading of the Christmas story, then step out into the darkness with candles or flashlights or phone apps shining, and with masked faces but open hearts sing “Silent Night.” A prayer, a blessing, and the parking lot will empty.

It won’t be the same, and we will miss the cherished traditions and familiar routines. But the season will not lose its meaning nor the night its holiness. Because in the end, Christmas doesn’t depend on what we do or don’t do, much as we might love all of it.

It’s a gift, of course. From God to us. The gift of God for us.

This is going to be a memorable Christmas season in some rather different ways, but the essential promise remains precisely the same: God is with us. Nothing in all of creation can change that.

We may have to listen more closely, but I believe that in the quietness of that night, when all is said and done, we’ll still be able to hear the angels sing: “Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace…”