The very first time I was part of leading a Christmas Eve Service was over thirty years ago. I was not ordained, and I really had no idea what I was doing. Lisa and I were recently married and serving with A Christian Ministry in the National Parks. We worked and lived in National Parks and led Sunday worship services in the campgrounds or indoor meeting places. At this time we were living in Stove Pipe Wells, Death Valley, CA. We were living in an employee dorm in the park, and our housing was one room and a bath, which we shared with our cat. A very dark and dusty room as I remember! We had a hot plate, and our refrigerator was an ice chest. The nearest grocery store was more than an hour away in Nevada.  


Like most of the park employees, we were scheduled to work on all of the holidays, Christmas included. So Lisa and I organized a Christmas Eve Service after the work day for all the park employees and guests. To our great surprise the entire park staff came out for the Christmas Eve Service. From the hotel manager who played the piano, and the District Park Ranger who served as lector. The hostess of the restaurant sang a solo, and the bus boy in the restaurant helped to set up chairs. The room was full as we began. We had a piano and a few hymnals, but no choir, and to my surprise the singing of carols was loud and joyful. Though it was a Christmas Eve Service stripped clean of glitter, candles, banners or stars, Christ's Spirit was very much evident. A simple service, for simple people of faith, longing for God's presence. Christ came and met us where we were. 


I learned that Christmas does not need to be a fancy production. But then we knew that, didn't we, from the first Christmas, when a poor couple took refuge in a stable because there was no room for them in the inn. They nestled their newborn son in a manger. Christ found his home on earth among us. 


And so, as we prepare this Advent, I am reminded to simply open my heart to the true gift of Christmas. God coming as a child, innocent and defenseless into the craziness of our world. Whether we celebrate Christmas grandly or simply is not the point. Our focus is directed to Christ, who comes to us where we are, as suburban or city dwellers, as nomads or kings. That Christmas in the desert was special, not for the gifts or celebration, but because Christ was present. I have no idea what I said that night, but I do remember it as a Christ centered celebration. I also remember walking back to our dorm after the Christmas Service, it was night time in the desert and the sky was a magnificent canvas of stars. As I looked at the stars, I was thankful that the God of the universe was with us, in that very moment.


Advent Blessings, Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year,