I might have been in fourth or fifth grade... I know I was a stubborn preteen. Mom and dad forced me to put on a Christmas sweater and corduroy pants as we made our way to Christmas Eve worship. Christmas and Easter are the only times some people show up for church, but in my family it was the only time I dressed up. Let's just say I was reluctant to the formality.
My dad made our entire family come forward to light Advent Candles and read scripture in front of the church. I can remember how awkward it felt to stand in front of a crowded sanctuary reading from Luke "behold I give you good news of great joy for all the people." Even then I thought my voice was annoying to hear (I still do). After we lit the candles and read the scripture we assumed our seats on the front row, singing familiar Christmas Carols. I was prepared to zone out, as usual, but then something unexpected happened... something significant... something that still serves a reminder, almost like a snapshot picture on the refrigerator.
That night it became to real to me that I was loved by God. I don't know if it was the beautiful poetry of scripture, the faith of the music, or the beauty of the candles in a dark space, but God's eternal love for me became real that Christmas. I've never forgotten that moment. I knew I was loved no matter what by the huge love of God.
Oh, I've managed to forgot many times since that I am loved unconditionally - and I've managed to act like it. I've also forgotten I am loved, so I may share love and invite others to be loved. But the memories of God at Christmas 30 years ago still stir my sometimes dormant faith. Even as I type these words, I remember the shadow of the candle bouncing on the brown carpet, and somewhere in that moment God showed up in the heart of a ten or eleven year old.
I am not sure if you have any similar memories of God. When my faith goes dry, it is these memories of God that pull me forward to seek the next experience of faith. This Christmas season, I hope you will intentionally seek God in worship - at home and at church. Sometimes you might feel like it is merely doing what we did last week or last year - and the routine might not immediately lead to the sacred celebration. But I want you to know that someone took me- and MADE me- worship that day and it changed my life. I am glad they did. Because God reached into my life, in the same way He is longing to reach into your life this Christmas season.