By Rev. Ann Laird Jones
Like all good celestial collision paths, Christmas Eve 2023 brings the incarnational arc as close together as imaginably possible. In the morning on December 24 we wake up to Advent 4. By afternoon we are zooming towards Christmas Eve. Purple paraments yield to white. The now-complete circular Advent wreath guides our attention to the Christ candle. After weeks of watching and waiting this unlit candle, quietly alone in the middle of the advent wreath, the moment has arrived to symbolically usher light into a world of darkness. The joyful collision of Advent and Christmas Eve, all in one day!
Lately I have been out visiting churches and presbyteries. Last week I had the great honor of attending the tri-Presbytery meeting of the 3 KY Presbyteries. The focus was finding out about one another. The speaker was the Rev. Mark Elsdon, who guided us to a posture of abundance, rather than scarcity, as we imagine the future of our churches. This year’s incarnational fireworks where Advent and Christmas Eve dance together hand in hand, is a great symbol for abundance! Even in a world at war we imagine peace, as the Prince of Peace brings the promise of abundant presence.
This year I am curious just how churches are imagining Christmas Eve 2023! At first-way back in August and September—I heard groans. Sighs. How will we get through December 24th? Sessions considered cancelling morning worship in favor of beloved Christmas Eve traditions we hold onto tenaciously. Plans were made for Advent. Ann Kelly, pastor of Leland presbyterian Church in Leland, MS, is using Cynthia Campbell’s book Christmas in the Four Gospel Homes. Looking at incarnation in terms of “home,” Campbell imagines four scenarios:
- Mark: the house of the sparse minimalist;
- Matthew: a house filled with family photos-how are we connected?!;
- Luke: traditional Hallmark Christmas house with all the trimmings, including a great cast of characters;
- John: hard-to-find place in the deep woods, but a light in the window guides you to the door.
Another pastor is using Herbert Martin’s Advent Chain of Stars. The first week in this story of the stars is called “Advent to the World: Jesus’ entry into Jerusalem.” The second week is called “Advent of the King: the promise of the return of Jesus at the end of time.” The third week, “Advent for the Heart, urges us to prepare ourselves” for Advent. The fourth week, “Advent in the Light, guides us to the manger.” There is gradual movement every week towards the incarnation, with the story of the stars as a guide.
But what about the actual meeting of Advent waiting and explosive incarnation on December 24th? Dr. Andrew Pomerville, the brand-new President of Louisville Presbyterian Theological Seminary, recently served a church that had three morning services each Sunday, and four Christmas Eve services each year. The last time he remembers December 24th being the convergence of 4th Advent and Christmas Eve, his memory is that everyone on both staff and in congregation looking at each other, and decided to make this the congregation’s story. They decided they would all participate in the transition! After the three morning services everyone pitched in to change paraments from purple to white, and to prepare the sanctuary for Christmas Eve! Then, everyone came back for the 4 Christmas Eve services!
The calendar convergence of Advent 4 and Christmas Eve hits this year at a time when more than ever before we need this convergence of incarnational hope. May we keep one another in prayer as we celebrate the coming of Christ and the presence of Christ in our living. May we yearn for peace, as we await the coming of the Prince of Peace. May we find abundance in new traditions, new practices, together as one people of Advent convergence.
Grace and Peace!
Ann Laird Jones