Most people have a candlelight service on Christmas Eve. Everyone celebrates the story of when Darkness had seen a Great Light by coming together as a body, sharing bread and fruit of the vine, and a single flame, multiplied to fill a room. Christmas is, after all, a community celebration. We celebrate one of our founding stories together—as the Body. We celebrate the coming of the Body that was broken for us. There is something beautiful in the cycle of the calendar and the movement of the seasons that reminds us: there is a time to celebrate the Birth, and there is a time to celebrate the Death—the single human cycle that changed movements of the world.
But that single human who changed everything came as a child. He did not have his Father. He was not living in the comforts of the home He had known since the beginning of time. Regardless of all of this, that small child had a communion, of sorts. The Body had not yet been broken, but there was a gathering to celebrate the gift of new life. Joseph and Mary were there. A ragamuffin band of shepherds even came to goggle at the birth of their redemption. In fact, the whole of the created order was present for this first restored communion. The animals in the stable witnessed the birth of this Second Adam, just as they had witnessed the birth of the First. The baby was even nestled into a bed of hay—part of the vegetation that played such a prominent part in the story of creation and was to provide for the needs of all humankind. All was brought together for one shining moment of perfect community in perfect communion. And as we are told, Mary treasured these things in her heart, just as many of us savor the taste of the bread and the grapes as we meditate over their meaning and history.
My Christmas experience this year reminded me of a few of these essential elements of the first Christmas. On Christmas Eve my team and I found ourselves in a little village in Southeast Asia. We arrived too late to find any food, and all but a few vendors with day-old bread had shut their stalls and gone home to bed. We found a room in the inn, but we shared a meditative meal of crusty bread and some liter bottles of water. Mosquitoes buzzed around our lights instead of visions of sugarplums dancing in our heads. We made due with what we had in a place with which we were not familiar. And we had our little communion. We met as members of the body and shared stories of triumphs and loss. After talking about our futures on or off the Field, we heard about the believers’ work here and glorified in their successes and ached for their disunity. We savored the taste of an already-but-not-yet redemption, given, but not yet brought to fullness.
I mulled my experience over in my head, read a bit of the Word, and went to sleep. We woke up on Christmas morning and traveled to a home for children—children missing parents or whose parents cannot take care of them at home anymore. My communion experience continued with them in a different way. I shared with them about a child born into a very similar situation long ago on this day we celebrate, missing instead a Heavenly Father and away from his home. I saw in their eyes the all-surpassing understanding of children. They too knew what it meant to be out-of-place but completely belonging. There were in a communion of the Saints, brought together by nothing except a shared grace. Their community was whole and beautiful, complete with the same already-but-not-yet redemption as in that lonely stable long ago.