Four candles burned warmly above the evergreens wreathed on a stand to the left of the altar, the Gospel side. On the Epistle side, below the lectern, nestled the nativity scene in a bed of pine cones and fir branches. There, the shepherds waited with their sheep, Mary and Joseph waited in the manger, and the cows and oxen waited.
We draw close now, closer each day to the miraculous, stupendous, festival of Christmas, when Christ came among us in his great humility, almighty God becoming a baby. Words cannot say what this means for us, for He is the Word itself. Let Him speak to our hearts of this incredible mystery, this fathomless love.
During Advent St. Peter’s has slowly layered the story of Christmas with candles, color, crèche. Even the nave seems to have grown rich with warmth and presence as the weeks have passed. We do not want to rush this – we want to get it right – for we do not want to miss one second of joy, one minute of memory, one hour of holiness. We want what God is offering, Himself.
We draw close now. We watch and wait and listen.
Good Father Pomroy preached about the momentous themes of Advent: Death, Judgment, Heaven, Hell. We like to hear about Heaven, not so much death, judgment, and Hell. Yet, he said, death is inescapable, and, I thought, gives great meaning to life. Judgment, he explained, is the formalizing of the choices we have made. When Christ judges us, as He will one day, He sees where we have chosen to go. And, of course, those choices are clear: Heaven with God or Hell without God. We face our judgment with a final choice, to be sorry for those times we chose wrong, to accept Christ’s saving acts on the Cross for those moments of darkness.
And our choices define who we are. As children of God we are grafted onto the Body of Christ, and it is in this Body we discover our true selves. In fact, as we give ourselves to God, he gives us back a thousand-fold, and we learn who we are meant to be. He molds and forms us; He sanctifies us. But we must choose Him, and choose the way of his Body, the Church.
I gazed upon the purple draped altar now being sweetly censed by the celebrant swinging the thurible in circles about the holy table, above and below, around the sides, preparing the space with billowing clouds for the great offering of the Mass.
And with the offering of the Mass, I knew I would once again offer myself. I would choose this offering, with His help and grace.
We draw close. We choose to travel to Bethlehem. And we see our true selves in the Holy Child in the manger.
St. Peter’s Church, 6113 Lawton, Oakland, CA; Sunday Mass and Church School, 10 a.m.; http://www.saintpetersoakland.com/;http://www.anglicanpck.org/.