Julie’s Jar: I Could Hear the People Praying

FCC Pomona's Advent evergreen Advent wreath, fully lit on Christmas Eve. 3 purple taper candles and 1 pink candle surround the central white Christ candle.

The sunset on Christmas Eve was beautiful. The rain that lingered most of the day had ceased, leaving the church parking lot freshly washed for our first ever parking lot service. There were practically no cars in sight as I drove in, a clear path having been installed just an hour or so earlier by Jamie Gibson and Mike. Jamie had clearly thought this out and the route in was all quite straight forward.

This was the first, “Wow, this is amazing,” moment.

It was almost 5:30 pm, when the service was to commence. It appeared not many would be attending. Then the cars began coming in. An unexpected response emerged as the cars began to enter the parking lot. It was joy, like the joy one feels when seeing a friend who has moved away and returned for a visit: A reunion. And I got to to approach each car, masked and distanced, peer in through the darkness, and greet friends in Christ who ventured out to help welcome the Christ child. This was the second, “Wow, this is amazing,” moment.

It was cold and breezy. While I had sufficient layers to stay warm, I shared Mike’s skepticism that the candles on the Advent wreath would stay lit. Would we even be able to successfully get the lit in the first place? Third, “Wow, this is amazing,” moment. The Advent and Christ Candles did stay lit, and remained so until 20 minutes AFTER the service was over.

The last, “Wow, this is amazing,” moment was our unison prayer toward the end of the service. I could hear the people praying. It was an overwhelming moment of grace to hear you pray, out loud. The people of God, joining voices in prayer for the world. It was unexpected to be swept up in these sounds of solidarity. I could hear the people praying, together.

The pandemic has certainly challenged us and shaken the foundations that secure us to routines that ground us and give our lives direction and purpose. The pandemic has also opened to us opportunities we’d never seek without being dislodged from life as usual. Because we are a hopeful and resilient people, we sought the opportunities even as we lamented the loss.

The Christmas Eve service in the parking lot is something I think is worth repeating, perhaps in a different way, perhaps incorporating it into the “usual”. If the Christ child were born in our time, he could just as easily have been born in a car in a parking lot, not far from adequate shelter and medical help. The Christ Candle and the Candles of Advent shone brightly in our parking lot. What a beautiful reminder and witness that the light of the world is actually in the world.

This article was written prior to the events in our nation’s capitol. As I asked in the sermon on Sunday, I ask us to consider again as the body of Christ: What are you opening to? What and who has an opening into your thinking, your resentments, your hopes? In a time such as this, what will you risk to be vulnerable to the power of the Holy Spirit?

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