For starters, the children were all in service for worship this Sunday, ages 1 month and up. The band played "Go, Tell it on the Mountain," to start and it was the most celebratory rendition of the song I have ever witnessed. The kids from the neighborhood added stomps and hand-clapping. Little girls in dresses, jeans, and pink camo pants spun in circles, holding each others' hands. Adults danced with babies on their hips and a 9-year-old boy clapped and sang loudly while sitting on someone's shoulders. Teenagers were smiling. The celebration took over the front part of the room, just inches (at times) from the guitar player. Normally, I would be the first to jump up and try to corral the kids off to the side, but it was clear that though they had not been asked to, they were leading worship.
The nursery (ages 1-4 at our church) sang "This Little Light of Mine" and "He's God the Whole World in His Hands." These are not Christmas songs, per se, but light is definitely one of the themes of Advent. Particularly beautiful about the time was watching one of our youth, the third of eight children in her family, holding her youngest sister. The little girl, who is less than two, pointed her finger high during "This Little Light of Mine" and stood up straight while her older sister moved her hands along to the motions of "He's Got the Whole World in His Hands." Sometimes I despair that these particular children are raising themselves and each other in so many ways, but today the scene of the older teaching the younger brought me to joyful tears.
...As did the scene of the black children and the white children, the middle-class children and the poor chidlren, dancing together without realizing what a powerful image they were making.
...As did scanning the congregation to see adults making circles with their arms above their heads and smiling during "He's Got the Whole World in His Hands."
...As did the older children taking over the song the Sunday School workers were teaching them and doing their own stomp and clap version of "Joy to the World," complete with hip-hop echoes of each line. Only one of the children singing had parents in attendance, but we all cheered when they finished because they are all our kids.
Maybe I'm a bit more emotional than usual because I'm pregnant, but I cried off and on through nearly the whole service. It was the best celebration I have seen in quite some time...most of it impromptu.
I asked one of the "older" couples in our church (they would not be labeled such in most any other church they could attend) to lead the advent time this week. They are a zaney couple and the wife in particular is one of the best celebrators I've met. The characters for this week were the angels. I think they had quite a great job, bringing all the great news to the earthlings. Eric, the husband, read in Luke 2 of the angels making the announcement to the shepherds. Brenda spoke about the other times in Advent that angels made announcements. When Gabriel showed up to Zechariah and told him he and his wife would have a son, Zechariah did not celebrate the good news with the angel; instead, he asked for proof. That lack of belief led to Zechariah being silenced for the next many months. When Gabriel showed up to Mary and told her she would bear God's son, Mary submitted and that submission lead to a time of celebration with Elizabeth that even included Elizabeth's son in utero, who leapt for joy from his place in the womb. When the angels showed up to the shepherds, they joined the celebration and worshipped. When confronted with our good news, do we spread it by celebrating or is our joy silenced by cynicism?
We have been given so much to celebrate. Not only do we have the good news of Christmas, but we also have the good news of the cross. We have gifts in this life and milestones that are to be celebrated. We are unconditionally accepted as God's own children and loved with a love that is not affected by our bad behaviour. Brenda listed many things she is celebrating this Christmas and others, including children in the congregation, took her up on her invitation to verbally list some things they celebrate today as well. We all have many reasons, both universal and individual, to celebrate.
In the absence of a youth to read today's reading, I had my friend Lauren do it. She came up with her one-month old daughter and led us through the reading. She's the only person I know who can do justice to a reading with exclamation points in it without sounding staged. And tears streamed down her face and mine we were reminded of all the joys given and promised to us as Children of Light.
The angels received good news from the throne of God. Their joy at the news turned into a celebration that was brought to the shepherds. As we come today, let's join in the celebration that began at God's throne and will go on into eternity when we all gather at that same throne. After I read each line, please respond by saying: “We will celebrate!”
There is good news for all the people.
It is good for the poor, young, unmarried mother.
It is good for the well-dressed, old priest.
It is good for us.
The angels brought good news.
We will bring good news.
The Light has come to the world!
Children of Light, nothing is better than this!
Come, let us dance in the light of the Lord.
He gives us peace with God.
He gives us peace with each other.
We are different.
We are one in Christ.
On the street to the new Jerusalem,
On the streets of Muncie,
We will lift our voices together.
With each other,
With those around the world;
With those who have gone before us,
With those who will come after us,
With the angels;
The Spirit and the Church say, “Come!”
If you hear the invitation, say, “Come!”
When you come, Lord Jesus,
Because you come, Lord Jesus;