The minister began, “In the beginning was the Word…” and the mike refused to work. We wait in silence in the beautiful old church with the lovely Chrismon tree…and the babies crying as a six-foot lady marched up the aisle with a new mike.

The choir sang like angels, the soloists rising into the night sky as the precious organ shook us into Christmas expectation…then something caused it to squeak and the congregation laughed!

Moods are difficult to sustain even on Christmas Eve when once-a-year members enter late en masse accompanied by body-pierced teens with heads shaved or half-shaved and toddlers run joyously up and down the aisles. Still, we recoup and bow our heads to welcome The King.

The minister fluffs a few lines, the readers stumble over Biblical names and miss their cues…still the Good News squeezes through to rejuvenate hope in the downtrodden, the immigrants, and half the members who are homosexuals…all welcomed and helping do the work of Christmas.

Now it is time for the holy moments of The Lord’s Supper and the congregation gets into a traffic jam moving toward the Bread and Wine…and people greet those they have not seen all year, those returning from hospitals, heartbroken widows and teary halves of couples that did not work out…and Holy Communion happens anyway as we mill around—just as promised.

We hold hands praying the Lord’s Prayer…hands sticky from the street, hands with
calluses, soft hands, trembling hands, reluctant hands, white-brown-black-yellow
hands, and the Spirit moves through us ready or not.

Then it is time for sharing the light…from the central candle to our candles
as we prepare to go out into the cold night to bring the Christ-light into the
retreating dark, singing carols for the downtown to hear…laughing and crying
and hugging as we hear: “Go into the world and BE Christmas…DO Christmas…God
LOVES you! Amen.”

INTO THIS MESSINESS, OUR MESSINESS — not unlike the messiness of the stall,
the animals, the very messiness of birth, the irony of shepherds and wise men
kneeling together in the straw and precious gifts next to animal excrement
while angels sing and stars shine and God is glorified — into the this very

*The Rev. James C. Berbiglia, retired Presbyterian minister and military
chaplain, wrote this piece during this past Christmas season. I’m glad to
post it even as we continue through the season of Epiphany. Keep its
beautiful year-round message of inclusivity and grace in your thoughts
now, through the year and then as we once again approach Christmas.

1 thought on “THE CHRISTMAS EVE SERVICE By James C. Berbiglia*

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