And I'm so excited to gather for worship this evening. This is traditionally one of my favorite times of year to gather for worship. And a Christmas Eve gathering is for me always one of the best of all gatherings.
I read a survey that said 82% of people without a church are receptive to attend church if invited and escorted by a friend. That’s good news, isn’t it? Here’s the bad news. Only 21% of church-going Christians invited someone to church during 2009.
Maybe it's time to invite someone to church this Christmas. Maybe it's time to help them hear the message of God's incarnation in the fellowship of believers, and to experience it in friendship with a singular believer: you, me, us.
Here are some thoughts from Irma Bombeck. If you are not familiar with her work, she was a satirist and blue collar philosopher who published many books and brought many significant issues to the masses in America. She writes these thoughts in the empty nest season of her life and strangely I find them poignant to mile life though I am certainly NOT in an empty nest. Maybe they will be poignant to you too.
But the chimes hadn’t rung for a long time, even though kings & potentates had come to give gifts of gold & silver & precious gems. The chimes had not rung for a long, long time.
But one Christmas Eve a little peasant boy came down the aisle & knelt before the altar. As he thought about the Christ-child lying in a manger, he took off his tattered coat & laid it on the altar. When he did, the chimes rang loud & joyously.
Erma Bombeck wrote, "I’ve heard the chimes ring, too. I remember a Christmas when one of my sons brought me a piece of tattered construction paper on which he had tried to draw a picture of praying hands, & underneath the picture he had written, ’O Come, Holy Spit.’"
"When I saw that," she said, "I heard the chimes ring & I knew that a very special gift had been given."
"On another Christmas I received a shoebox all clumsily wrapped. When I opened it, I found two baseball cards & a piece of gum. Again I heard the chimes ring."
"And I heard the chimes ring the time when the kids got together & cleaned the garage & gave that as their Christmas present to me."
"Those days are long gone," she remembered, "days when we fashioned lace doilies into snow flakes, & pipe cleaners into Christmas trees. When we took empty spools & used them for candleholders. Those days are long gone."
"I remember little feet coming down the stairs with a hand-made gift all wrapped up in $2.00 worth of wrapping paper to put underneath the Christmas tree. Those little feet now wear panty hose & fashion boots."
"Little hands that used to break the piggy bank to get 59 cents to buy a Christmas gift, now hold credit cards that are good in any store in town."
"We’ll have a good Christmas this year," she said. "We’ll eat too much. We’ll mess up the living room & throw the warranties in the fire by mistake. We’ll put bows on the dog’s tail. We’ll take bites out of cookies & put them back in the plate. We’ll listen to Christmas songs, & have a good Christmas."
"But, Lord, what I wouldn’t give to bend over just one more time & receive some toothpicks held together by library paste & to hear the chimes ring - just one more time."
I love gardening. It's creative. It's solitary. It's tangible and measurable (I can tell immediately if I have been successful). I also love discipleship. It's relational. It's eternal. It's world-changing.