A little more than two weeks ago, I had what I considered at the time to be the least authentic (ie, fakest) experience ever in my ministry. At 3:00 in the afternoon on Wednesday, December 16th, I stood alone in the CtK sanctuary, looked directly at my own iPhone fixed to a tripod and declared “Merry Christmas, Christ the King!”
Now, this is not the typical pastoral rant about Advent being its own season, urging us all to be better about waiting for Christmas. No, this is a revelation about how challenging it can be to fully inhabit the physical and emotional space required to lead worship within a faith community, particularly at such meaningful occasions as Christmas Eve. This is a confession about how the necessity of pre-recording our services during this ongoing pandemic can sometimes feel insincere. Fake. Like I’m simply pretending.
When I shared this feeling with the members of my peer support group, I found their reflections to be helpful. First, they reminded me of the example we have in Mr Rogers (of all people!). An ordained Presbyterian pastor, Fred Rogers was perhaps the most authentic person ever on television—speaking kindness, calling for compassion, modeling connection with and for generations of children and adults alike. And he mostly did so, I was reminded, without any children present on the set of his show. Among the role models I regularly look to in my faith, I will now add Mr Rogers, who modeled a distinction between “pretend" and “make believe.”
A second insight my peer group shared was that, while it seems intensified or exaggerated these days, worship has always been a place, a time, an experience of the “now and the not yet.” One friend joked that maybe my opening words for services like this should be “I am coming to you from the future!” There is so much wisdom in what she meant to be funny. After all, God calls us from the future, invites us to imagine that future together as the people of God, and then actually empowers us to live out that envisioned future for the sake of the world. Worship provides an intersection of the now and the not yet, a threshold between the world as it is and the coming world heralded by God’s prophets, ushered in by Jesus’ birth, and continually revealed to us through the Spirit. Christmas, you might say, throws wide open the door between the now and the not yet.
Maybe that’s a word for us in this new year: that as the people of God in this time and place, we are called to more fully inhabit the now and the not yet. We proclaim a future that is not-quite-seen, but that in Christ we make believe. We express our faith in community, even though we are not yet able to gather safely, (paradoxically protecting one another by keeping our distance). We cheer the arrival of Covid vaccines, even as we faithfully continue such practices as masking, washing, distancing, and avoiding social gatherings. We give thanks for such technology that allows us to record, mix, upload, premier, and livestream, even as we long for the day we will gather, sing, pray, laugh, cry, and simply be together in one place. We profess the wonder of the Incarnation, the “God-with-us”of Christmas, even as we watch for the Advent of the One who is always arriving. We look for the resurrection of the dead, and the life of the world to come.
Merry Christmas and Happy New Year, Christ the King!