by Amanda Judah
For the past five years, my mom and I have attended the same Christmas Eve service in Boston. Our friends from our home church are always surprised to hear of this tradition, since it means “church hopping” for a single night. Even more surprisingly, we attend a pageant service for small children, despite not knowing any of these children ourselves. However, I have found that this tradition reminds me of the larger body of Christ, as well as our collective humanity.
While Advent is a liturgical season that focuses on the divinity of the Christ Child, I find that it is also a season that reminds me most strongly of my humanity. Throughout the Christmas story, we constantly encounter stories of extraordinary faith: the shepherds, Mary, and the wise men all respond to the story of Christ’s saving power with different, but equally striking, responses. In the past, it was easy for me to focus on how I could never measure up. If I struggled with doubts after centuries of an established tradition, how much more would I question if I were a resident of Bethlehem?
However, as I see these children reenacting the Christmas story every year, I am reminded that God values the faith that we can bring Him in the here and now. I may not have the deep theological convictions I desire, but I can still marvel at, and praise, the mystery of God. Additionally, the service progresses by each child choosing when and how they want to participate. If they want to glimmer in the night like stars, they can do so, or if they want to be lambs or shepherds, they are given the opportunity. This ability to choose a vocation always reminds me that God places us in a context where we can be of service to others the best.
Every year, attendees can receive a blessing from the priest, a practice my home church doesn’t participate in, so the significance of hearing that God wants to bless and keep me for the rest of my days feels even more significant. This practice reminds me of two aspects of God’s heart for His people: He is devoted to giving His full love to those unfamiliar with it, just as He is devoted to reminding the faithful of His presence.
After leaving this Christmas Eve service, the world always looks just a little bit brighter. Pushed out into the bustling world of Boston, I am always struck by one simple truth: despite having a family tradition, we truly don’t need to go somewhere specific to experience God. Ultimately, Advent is about God coming to us.