…annnnnnnd how many of you finished that title’s lyrics in your Chipmunk voices? (time for toys and time for cheer!)
What a time of reflection this year. For the first time in years, I watched the national sacred Mass on Christmas Eve at the national cathedral. I just thought I’d share some thoughts, and maybe ask for yours.
I come from a traditionally neither catholic or protestant, “low church” background. I was raised in what is known as the “Restoration Movement” (or Stone-Campbell Movement) in American church history. From where I came, it was “unscriptural” to celebrate Christmas as a holy day at all; since it is nowhere in scripture labeled as that day, or outlined for our celebration.
I don’t hold that conviction at all anymore. To me, it’s a powerful time of remembrance and celebration to acknowledge that the child who was born in Bethlehem would establish a kingdom that would never be destroyed. A time when Jesus was poured out from his Divine nature, into the broken, fleshly, ‘created’ form as a man.
As I was watching the service, I was blown away by a couple of things. 1) the CEREMONY of the service was so deeply traditional that I was lost trying to find meaning. I appreciate tradition, and appreciate religious traditions that are ceremonially done. But when I read the New Testament, I just simply never see all of the ceremony, rite, and ritual that I saw on Christmas Eve on TV. 2) I was blown away by the reverence of the moment. While it was ritualistic and solemn, the Catholic tradition uses that time to draw near to God through communion.
In a way, I was never MORE convicted that I was that night, that the way the Catholic church does communion/mass is not the Biblical way. It is the Catholic way. I try to envision the spirit that was over the apostles and disciples when Jesus had recently ascended into Heaven, and how they would have assembled. Would it have been with pomp, and gowns, and ceremonial incense to ‘bathe’ the worship before the Lord? Or would it have been more wooden… more common folk… more – real?
I don’t condemn the Catholic way. But I don’t believe it’s the Biblical way, and I’ll let the Lord sort all of that out. But was I do believe firmly is that for Christians everywhere – we have to be real and be drawn near to God by the coming of the King. I believe in the establishment of the Kingdom, the washing of regeneration, and the table of memorial feast as we eat the supper together with other disciples. I believe in Jesus’ prayer when he prayed, “thy kingdom come, thy will be done on Earth as it is in Heaven.”
I also believe in the power of symbolism. For Catholics, almost everything in the ceremony is layered with powerful symbolism. The metaphor of the incense, the whitewashed garments, the holy bread, the holy wine, and the trans-substantiated meal at the sound of the bell (when, in Catholic tradition, the bread and wine literally become the body and blood of Christ). When we partake of Christ, and “feast” on him like Jesus taught us in John 7, we take in all of his teaching, his wisdom, and his character.
John 6:54-58 says: 54 Whoever eats my flesh and drinks my blood has eternal life, and I will raise them up at the last day. 55 For my flesh is real food and my blood is real drink. 56 Whoever eats my flesh and drinks my blood remains in me, and I in them. 57 Just as the living Father sent me and I live because of the Father, so the one who feeds on me will live because of me. 58 This is the bread that came down from heaven. Your ancestors ate manna and died, but whoever feeds on this bread will live forever.”
The mass on Christmas Eve repeatedly stated, “he came to give us life, and that life so that we would have peace.” – that we would have the courage to change our lives to live in a holy way. It’s a tough choice to live separate from the world. I can’t imagine just how tough it was for Jesus to not go crazy on the Jews for their constant ignorance of the eternal wisdom He taught. But I know what he taught was right, because it’s HARD. It is selfless, and it is holy, and it’s difficult to care for those who don’t deserve your kindness.
The Manna God provided for Israel in the wilderness some 4000 years ago was both symbolic and functional. It fed them and sustained them; but it came in the form of “rain” from the sky. The LORD provides life and peace. Jesus taught it in more direct, practical ways than that, but he taught the same thing.
I am thankful for the experience I had Christmas eve watching the catholic Network, for helping me get a little different picture on Christmas Eve. While I am not ready to go kiss the ring, I acknowledge the deep reverence for the King’s birth, coronation, death, and resurrection. My prayer is that I’ll have the willpower to keep it real in my own life. God, be merciful to me and strengthen my weak knees. Be completely in my sights for a new-ness, a self-less devotion to your holiness, and the service that Jesus showed others. Lord Jesus, thank you for your humility to come as a servant man, and show us how to be humble in greatness. “Let ev’ry heart, prepare Him room” – for you as the King of our lives.