The Christmas Eve candlelight service continues to be one of my favorite services of the year. I don’t know if it’s the carols, or the darkness outside, or the candles inside, but I always get something out of it. A few years ago, the pastor had set out a manger. When it came time for communion, he unbundled the loaf of bread that had been sitting in the manger and broke it. It was perfectly beautiful symbolism. This little baby whom we’re all adoring, he’s going to die for you.
It was also a Christmas Eve communion that opened my heart to transubstantiation, which looking back, I believe was the first push to the Church.
During the service this year, it occurred to me, that the birth of Christ isn’t just the big conclusion of the story of prophecy that we’ve followed through Advent. And it’s not just the beginning of the story that we’ll get to at Easter. It’s a whole story in itself, a grand moment in time that makes everything else seem to fall away. God became human. And He did so in the most human of ways; a tiny baby growing in his mother’s womb. He knew what it was to be helpless and hungry and scared. God loved humanity so much that He came down to save us, yes, but first to experience the human condition.
For one night, the saga of sin and covenants and salvation are overshadowed by the tangible and weak form Christ took to come into the world and live among us.
Of course, Christmas Eve communion was a bit different this year because I’m in communion no-man’s land. I’m not yet ready to receive the Eucharist in the Catholic church, but I can’t in good conscious take communion at a Protestant church either. I tried earlier this fall and it just felt out of place. So as the plates of bread and little juice cups went around, I realized I was probably the only person over the age of six not partaking. I knew it was the right thing for me to do, but I felt alone. By definition, communion unifies the community, and I had just placed myself outside of that.
But then suddenly, I wasn’t alone. Someone from beyond the physical world was there, just over my left shoulder, trying to comfort me. It didn’t feel the same as those spiritual sensations that I recognize as the Father, the Christ or the Spirit. I didn’t know who this was, saint or angel or God in some form I didn’t recognize. In my head, I was crying, “Who are you?” but I knew it didn’t particularly matter at that moment. I was comforted, and that’s all whomever seemed to care about.
Thinking about it at a distance, I’m inclined to think it was a guardian angel. But I’ve never given much thought as to whether I even believe in angels or not. Then again, a few Christmas Eves ago, I would have said the same about transubstantiation.
I don’t know what it is about that Christmas Eve service. I try not to overanalyze or push away these experiences when they happen. I try to experience them to the fullest and worry about analyzing and making sense later. I want to have more of those rich, spiritual moments, to be able to touch that intangible world. And maybe that’s what is so different about Christmas Eve. The tangible and intangible, the visible and invisible, seem to blur lines. God became human. A little baby was also fully divine. Something as abstract as a Word became flesh. Gloria, indeed.