Thirteen years ago this night, December 24, 2000, was my first Christmas spent apart from my family. I was serving my vicar (internship) year in Tullahoma, Tennessee at Faith Lutheran Church. It would be the first of a string of many Christmases (save for 2001) that I would spend apart from my family. Such is the life of a pastor.
My vicarage congregation’s custom was (and is) to hold two “candlelight” Christmas services on Christmas Eve and no Christmas Day service. That was thought to be a “family” day or “travel” day. Attendance would be sparse, so there was no need to have a service that day. I know it’s hard to fathom, but you must remember that this is a different culture than most Lutherans are accustomed.
So that night I preached at one service and my supervising pastor preached at the other. I went home and, as I recall, went straight to bed. I was single at the time and wanted to get back to my home to get a good night’s sleep. My supervising pastor gave me some time off to go home and visit my family…and that’s what I did.
I woke up far too early the next morning and drove the 4 3/4 hours to my hometown, where I celebrated the birth of Jesus according to the flesh with my family at my home congregation. I had to savor those days because the time was coming where I wouldn’t be able to do that anymore.
That time has come, and here I am some five hours away from my parents and siblings. Not only am I not able to join them on Christmas Eve (our big family Christmas) but also on Christmas Day. A phone call will be made and well-wishes given over the phone. Now I have my own family. We celebrate the day in church and at home with another pastor’s family who have family far away whom they do not see.
So you see, I am not alone. I was never alone in the first place. Wherever my family members kneel or stand to receive the Body and Blood of Christ, I am there with them. On another shore and in another light (I LOVE those words from the bidding prayer of The Nine Lessons and Carols) my family members who have died in the faith are remembered. One day soon we will be together again for all eternity.
I visited a homebound member yesterday. This person has never married and has one sibling living. This person does have other relatives, but they will celebrate Christmas with their families. The two siblings might get together for the day. Otherwise, this person will be alone…but won’t actually be alone. No one should be alone for Christmas. For our Lord Jesus Christ is with my homebound member, with me, with all my family wherever they may be. Jesus Christ, the Infant-King, brings people together, even if distance separates them, to rejoice. Emmanuel has come to Israel. God is with us.
You are not alone. Merry Christmas.