From Our House to Yours, Merry Christmas!

There are two times of year that I miss serving the local church most keenly. One, of course, is Holy Week and Easter. I miss the journey from Palm Sunday, Maundy Thursday, Good Friday, Easter—the rhythms of the liturgy. We regularly need to hear the story that  reminds us of our why.   We need to be reminded  that nothing can separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus as Paul reminds us in Romans 8. 

The other season that captures my heart is Advent. I love the pageantry of preparation for the birth of the Christ Child. I remember well the sheer exhaustion of the week of Christmas.  Multiple services on Christmas Eve. The desire to have just the right message for the occasion, knowing that there likely would be those in the congregation who were longing for something they could not even name. 

I miss serving Holy Communion to children held in the arms by their parents or grandparents.

I miss looking in the eyes of those whose story had been sacredly shared in the holy space of my office at a moment when life hung in the balance as I served the sacrament.  

I miss sharing the light of a candle that had been ignited by the Christ Candle. 

In the first years of our marriage Lynn and I always made the long drive from Gainesville, Georgia to New Albany, MS, where her parents lived. Christmas Eve was a very special night with her family and it started with the Christmas Eve service at First United Methodist Church. Lavelle Woodrick was the Senior pastor. Every year, Lavelle would invite me to read the Christmas story, Luke 2, from the King James Version of the Bible. “In those days a decree went out…” 

As a seminary student, not yet ordained, I was given the privilege of serving the sacrament of Holy Communion.  I usually served the bread, Lavelle held the chalice, and together we shared the words, “The body of Christ, given for you.  The blood of Christ shed for you.”

Then to share the light of Christ with a sanctuary packed with friends and family who had nurtured my faith and my call to ministry as we sang “Silent Night”.  It was a holy time. 

In my experience, on Christmas Eve, Maundy Thursday and Easter, the minister is on the receiving end of ministry, maybe more than at any other time of the Christian year. 

We still come to New Albany, MS, for Christmas. We’ve been making this pilgrimage from one place or another now for 43 years. We’ve had the great fun of having all five of our grandchildren with us this week. Thomas, Micah, Iris, Bo and Mac. Lynn has employed her teaching skills of classroom management and had all five around the kitchen table doing Christmas crafts and singing Christmas carols. The voices of children singing carols is heavenly. 

Today we will go to Oxford University United Methodist Church, where we will hear our granddaughter, Bo, sing “O Come All Ye Faithful” in the Angel Choir. Bo is four and she told us she was an angel since she sang in the angel choir. I do not dare dispute her claim. 

We will be a part of the worshipping community and we will receive the bread and wine, served this night, by our son, Chris, who is Co-pastor at OUUMC. It will be a holy time. 

This Advent season, I’ve reflected on the thought that Emmanuel means God with us. I’m wondering though, in light of what I’ve experienced over the years on this special night, Emmanuel means God embraces us with a love that will not let us go. 

I am mindful of the grief our family has experienced during the Advent season since 2013, when my nephew Gale,  was killed in the line of duty, to my father’s death two years ago, our family has longed for that embrace. We’ve longed for that embrace when we lost my mother at the onset of the pandemic, and most recently the loss of Lynn’s mother last April.  

I am mindful, especially today, of those in our clergy family who will linger in the sanctuary a bit longer because for the first time they will come home without the embrace of a spouse. 

I am mindful today, also, of those in our communities who will this Christmas be without a home because of the recent tornadoes that tore across our Kentucky and West Tennessee. 

I am especially mindful that, if Christ is to be born in us this Christmas, we will need to reach with open arms to those in need. We will need to wrap our arms around our faith. 

So, I invite you to be mindful that when we birth and cradle Christ in our own lives we will find our arms wrapping around others who need Christ birthed and cradled in their lives. 

From our house to yours, 

Merry Christmas! 

Bill and Lynn McAlilly