In my dream of Christmas Yet to Come, I see a loving mother and I see our children. I see us in a church service together on a Christmas Eve.
I see bright and curious faces experiencing the wonder of something transcendent. I see two parents who love each other and are eager for their children to feel the wonder of something bigger than themselves — to feel the joy and love and connection of Christmas with people who know there is some mysterious power bigger than themselves, something which binds a community of people together through some wisp of spirit inside each heart.
I grew up in churches where the brain was more important than the heart. Nobody would have said it that way, but what mattered was doctrine and rational explanations, not experience or any powerful sense of wonder. We were vaguely disdainful of people who felt too much or expressed too much from the heart.
We quietly extinguished the transcendent from the sacred in most respects — and I believe we lost something important as a result.
I am far less certain of theology and doctrine today than when I was a confident 18-year-old planning to go into the ministry. I have more questions than answers now. I’m not willing to argue with anyone. I’m not willing to tell people exactly who God is and exactly what He wants.
I am simply more conscious than ever before that there is a Spirit who I have come to understand as God. I have become more and more conscious that there is a Spirit that binds all of us in ways I don’t understand. I know completely that love flows from that Spirit and changes anyone who really seeks it, but I’m not willing to tell you what that should look like in your life.
I read a story a couple of days ago in which a writer interviewed a popular evangelical pastor about what makes someone a Christian and what things someone must believe to call himself one. The Virgin Birth? The Resurrection? What else? Not too many years ago, I would have had strong doctrinal opinions about all the things the pastor discussed, but I find myself ambivalent about all of that today.
It’s not that I don’t believe objective truth exists. I do. I’m simply not arrogant enough to believe I have a handle on all of it and I no longer believe I’m required to take the word of anybody in particular about those things. I’m no longer bothered by any of that. At this point, I’m simply lost in the wonder of a shared transcendent experience, even if we view it in different ways and apply different language to it.
When I was young, those of us who were regular “church mice” made fun of the people who showed up only at Christmas and Easter. We were disdainful of the fact that attendance would swell to something like two or three times its normal size on those days. We thought they shouldn’t bother showing up if that’s all they could do. (We probably sounded pretty arrogant and prideful.)
Today, I understand that a lot of people are turned off by the nature of what the modern church has become, but they still desperately want to feel connected to community and love and faith and family in a way they find only in a religious service. And I now have enough empathy for people who are searching for the truth to accept whatever practices work for them, whether I see things their way or not. Outside of my own family, it’s really none of my business.
I want my future children to experience the connection of sharing something transcendent, whether they understand it at first or not. I want them to have parents who talk with them openly about why God matters and about how few answers we’re really certain about. I don’t want to dictate what they believe or what their eventual spiritual practices are. I simply want them exposed to the love and connection that come from this shared faith experience, not just at Christmas, but especially at such a time.
When I attend a Christmas Eve service later tonight, it won’t be for the pastor to teach me anything I don’t already know. It won’t be to have doctrine poured into me or to watch an entertaining show.
I will go looking for connection with other Christians who also experience the wonder of knowing God — not all the time, but enough to be certain He is real. I will go looking for a love to fill my heart and make me feel connected once more to people who I might otherwise pass on the street without a second glance.
I want and need the things I experience on such a night and in such a service. I need to feel love, faith, community and family. (And remember that family is frequently about who you choose to be in your life, not about who you grew up with.)
As I attend the Christmas Eve service in just a little while, I will slip in alone and hope to feel connection. But in my heart, I will be seeing that dream of Christmas Yet to Come. In my mind’s eye, I will see myself there with a dearly loved wife and dearly loved children.
For Christmas, I want love and connection, both for now and for many years yet to come. In the meantime, I’ll simply have faith that the Christmas Yet to Come which seems so strong in my mind is on its way.
Merry Christmas, everyone. There is powerful magic in this wonderful season.