Churches will soon swell with Christmas Eve crowds eager to hear an inspiring message of hope. It’s a time when regular church attenders will find themselves nestled into pews next to folks they don’t recognize. Shoulder to shoulder with people known as “C” & “E” Christians.
Maybe Christmas and Easter Christians are too busy, too tired, too wounded or too cynical to attend church regularly. But the high holidays still pack enough spiritual punch to draw folks into the presence of the divine on at least two occasions.
But I beg you, do not scoff at the C & E’s, as I am indebted to a C & E family’s annual trek to church. You see, I wasn’t raised in a church-going home. We didn’t pray before meals or discuss sin and salvation. I was a child more familiar with fairy tales than bible stories. My Christmases and Easters were filled with Christmas presents and Easter baskets, candy canes and chocolate eggs. But no church.
And then, during sophomore year in high school, neighbors invited me to a Christmas party. I walked down the block and encountered the usual crumbly cookies, fizzy punch and white elephant gifts. I was pleased just to be included, and at the end of the evening, prepared to head home. That’s when my neighbor tapped me on the shoulder and said, “You should come to church with us. We go every year on Christmas Eve at midnight.”
Church at midnight? I was curious about what happens at church during the hour I typically lie awake waiting for mom to stuff lip-gloss and chocolates into my Christmas stocking shaped like a ballerina slipper. So I tagged along. A gaggle of giddy C & E’s filled an entire row near the back of the sanctuary.
I was enchanted by the artistry of church architecture, the stained glass, the icons. Candlelight glowed. A choir caroled from a loft like an assembly of angels leading the congregation in an ever-building chorus of adoration. I wanted more of this in my life. More connection to other Jesus followers. More understanding of life beyond myself. More reverence for the Creator and creation.
I hurried home excited to share the experience with my mother. It turned out, she also wanted more. More community, more connection, more purpose. We started going to church. I was baptized. A believer in the life-changing power of faith, hope and grace.
And now, this Christmas Eve, I’ll attend church with my husband and children like I do every Christmas and every Sunday. My mother will go to church. My extended family will go to church. We do church. Regularly. And it’s partly because of an invitation from a few faithful C & E’s. Because of them, many have encountered Christ and the gifts of community, service and spiritual growth found within a church family.
So if you’re a “regular” seated next to someone unfamiliar on Christmas Eve, give them a special welcome, a hug, a smile, and maybe even a thank you from me. And whether you’re a regular church attender or a C & E Christian, be encouraged to invite someone to church. Your invitation could change lives much like a simple invitation changed mine.