When I was a little girl I loved Christmas movies. I loved the classics like Rudolph, Santa movies, and even the comedies like Home Alone. There was something magical about the idea of Christmas, although I didn’t understand the real meaning. Even then, I suspected there was something more magical I had yet to discover. I remember being drawn to scenes of churches on Christmas. There is a scene in Home Alone when the young boy is running from the incompetent bad guys and ends up hiding out in a church. I can’t explain why I was fascinated with those scenes of people singing and worshiping on Christmas, but I remember very clearly thinking “when I grow up I am going to go to church on Christmas Eve”.
I was 21 when I finally did. Actually, we didn’t start going on Christmas. We started on a random Sunday to a church we had randomly chosen. We went because we were a young married couple with a second child on the way, and well…. we figured that was a “good” thing to do. I wanted to go and I wanted to know what this “God stuff” was all about. Only, as I walked through those doors I didn’t feel the awe and magic I thought I would. I felt… different. I felt like people were looking at me. Of course, people were nice and no one seemed to notice the neon sign I thought was plastered on my forehead saying, “does not belong here”. No one seemed to notice that I did not even own a Bible. I would’ve sweat bullets if it had been a church that asked you to turn to a passage because let’s be real – I didn’t know what books were even in there, much less where they were. I so deeply dreaded any kind of greeting time because I wasn’t sure how to make conversation with these people I saw as having it all together. (Newsflash: they didn’t either. ) I wanted to cower when people would compliment me and tell me I looked too young to have a four year old (because I was afraid they would notice that I was too young to have a four-year old). Some might call that first church a mega-church, and somewhere in that crowd I could blend in like the wallflower I wanted to be. That allowed me to take my focus off myself long enough to listen, and listen I did.
I drank up every word until it penetrated the deepest parts of my soul. I drank it up until it started to heal wounds I had yet to reveal and change my thoughts about God and even myself. To God, they said, I wasn’t lost in that crowd. He knew my name. He knew everything I had ever done and yet- even still – He wanted to call me daughter. I wasn’t sure it applied to me, but I came back again and again to hear more hoping it could be true.
I remember very clearly the day that changed everything. Brian wasn’t even there that particular day because he was working. That day, I believed. I didn’t just believe in God, but I believed Him. I believed that God gave His Son so that whoever believed in Him wouldn’t die but would have a chance to live – and even be adopted into His family. Whoever. Even me.
And I was.
That very day.
That day I understood, for the first time, the real meaning of Christmas. And it was more magical than I had ever imagined.
Thirteen years later everything has changed. God has done more than I could ever tell you about in a million posts (although, if you stick around a while, I’ll give it a shot). Church is so familiar now it seems like a second home. Some weeks I feel like I spend more time there than at my actual home and I never think twice about walking through those doors. Most days I grumble because my kids feel so comfortable there I have to remind the littles 50 times not to run in the hall, and I have to hunt down my older ones because they always take off in different directions talking with friends. I still don’t have it all together, but I have come to understand it was never about that. It isn’t about us at all. It’s about that baby that was born to be a sacrifice on our behalf, because He was perfect when we could never be. Those people in church aren’t there because they have it all together, they are there because they found the One that holds all things together – the One that keeps them from falling apart when life gets hard. Yes, that’s us: former beggars that found life-giving Bread.
Tonight as I sat in a Christmas service, God allowed my mind to drift back over these things. There, in the dim sanctuary with the beautiful trees providing gentle, white light, the choir sang and I found myself tearing up as I sat in awe once again. Gratitude began to fill my heart. I could start listing all He has done for me and never finish, but there’s one thing that rises above all the others.
I get to know Him.
I listened and watched them recreate the events of the night world changed forever. And all I could do was pray for all the visitors. Did they know what He had done for them? Did they worry that they didn’t belong, like I once had? Was there someone there that wanted to know but didn’t even own a Bible?
I prayed for them; and I pray for you, friend.
I pray that you experience all the magic that Christmas has to offer. I pray that you know Him. Whether you have never set foot in a church, or you have a religion that leaves you feeling empty at the end of the day- I pray this Christmas you accept His invitation to be filled; to have a relationship, and really know Him. I pray you know that the life He offers is an abundant, joyful one.
And if you ever thought that you might want to spend Christmas Eve in a church, you are welcome to join our candlelight service this Christmas Eve. There in the soft candlelight, grateful hearts will be gathered there to sing to the One who came to die so that we might live.
You know I’ll be there.
“But God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us.” – Romans 5:8
“She will give birth to a son, and you are to give him the name Jesus, because he will save his people from their sins.” – Matthew 1:21