From the Book of Baruch:
Take off the garment of your sorrow and affliction, O Jerusalem,
and put on for ever the beauty of the glory from God.
Put on the robe of the righteousness that comes from God;
put on your head the diadem of the glory of the Everlasting;
for God will show your splendor everywhere under heaven.
(From the Daily Office Lectionary – Baruch 5:1-3 (NRSV) – December 24, 2013.)
It’s Christmas Eve! Probably my busiest and longest workday of the year.
The earliest part of my day will be spent receiving a shipment of poinsettias and completing the decorating of our church for Christmas services. In our own small way, St. Paul’s Parish will “put on the beauty of the glory from God” with those flowers, with our finest altar hangings and vestments, with special altar linens that are used only in this season, and with all the other trappings of the “high church” tradition that we enjoy from time to time.
The last part of my day will be spent in presiding at a festal eucharist with choir, organ, special music, chanted prayers, clouds of incense, and a congregation full of people dressed in Christmas finery. I’m quite certain all the splendor of the church will be on display in our nave and sanctuary, if not “everywhere under heaven.”
All of this . . . to celebrate the birth of a homeless, refugee infant in a borrowed stable. There is a marvelous incongruity to it all.
Our parish offered a service of Advent Lessons and Carols a few weeks ago. Many other congregations will offer a similar service as their early evening worship today. In the Episcopal Church, early in that service comes the Bidding Prayer, written by a Victorian bishop for the first such service at King’s College, Oxford, which includes this admonition:
And because this of all things would rejoice his heart, let us at this time remember in his name the poor and the helpless, the hungry and the oppressed; the sick and those who mourn; the lonely and the unloved; the aged and the little children; and all those who know not the Lord Jesus, or who love him not, or who by sin have grieved his heart of love.
In the midst of all our “pomp and circumstance,” in all our decking out in robes and diadems and splendor, sometime during this busiest and longest work day of the year, I hope to find a few minutes to pause before the altar, in the Presence of the Blessed Sacrament, to remember those who are much more like the baby in the manger than I am.
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Father Funston is the rector of St. Paul’s Episcopal Church, Medina, Ohio.