by Rev. Racquel Ray,
Assoc. Minister of Congregational Life
Water dripped from my soaked hair, coat soaked through, shoes sloshing, and glasses covered with rain droplets as I fumbled with my keys to open the church door. The rain and wind had kicked up, gale warnings and downpours threatened the Wednesday night commute. Why had we decided to have church so late in the evening? And mid-week at that! For a time, I thought no one would come out in this weather.
Entering the church and turning on lights I could hear the wind pelting the old steeple. Creaking timbers and rattling windows sending sounds of age and history. How many storms? How many Advent and Christmas seasons has this old church weathered? How many Baptisms and Funerals? I dried my hair with the freshly purified air from one of our air filter machines. Pealing off wet layers, I wondered who would be offended if I were barefoot during the service – my shoes were wet and cold. I crawled under the huge Frasier fir tree recently added to the chancel to plug in the lights; the smell of evergreen filling my senses and needles stuck to my wet clothes and hair.
The window candles lit the sanctuary through the shadows of the Norfolk Island pines so carefully curated and decorated along the windowsills. Ambient light from the iconic flood lights which light outside of the church cast shadows of tidy squares along the pale grey walls from the old wooden sashes. I began to breathe deeply of evergreen and ambient sacred stillness.
I wondered about the Christmas Story we were about to share. Gabriel’s announcement to such a young girl, no older than our youth group kids. Mary’s assent to Gabriel’s message that she would bear the Messiah. Mary, Theotokos – the God Bearer. How did she trust so easily? How was she so brave?
As others arrived, we turned on the lights and set them to just bright enough to see and traverse the sanctuary safely. One by one, wet and wind-blown, people gathered in the stillness of sacred space. On the Advent wreath, one candle was lit for the first week of the season of preparation for the Nativity of our Saviour. Seven-set candelabras flanked the ministers’ Windsor chairs giving just enough light to read by as we gathered in quiet. “Thank You for coming out in this weather” I say to guests with warming affection in my Spirit. How blessed we are to gather in this sacred space.
The church; the Body of Christ. The babe announced by Gabriel’s visit. The Messiah foretold by ancient prophets, by John the wilderness voice, and by Elizabeth the first evangelist to recognize and proclaim the presence of the God within Mary’s womb. Blessed are you among women and blessed is the fruit of your body!
And yet we, here in the body of Christ – the church are each facing the challenges of humanity in this season. Many of our members are in the midst of agonizing grief wondering how a loving God could allow so much pain. Many are facing impossible physical and mental wellness barriers. Some are in the middle of final and exams. Many are facing struggles to fund heating bills and grocery bills. And now ‘Christmas’?! We learn someone is in the emergency department as we gather. And someone is in the intensive care unit. And yet, here we have gathered in the stillness of the sanctuary to hear from the Sacred. Where are you God? Where is the promised Emmanuel – God with us – in our pain?
We settle into the quiet stillness of the service. Breathing in, breathing out. Centering and becoming present. As soft music plays we breathe and realize God is here. God is in the tempest. God is in the storm, the wind, the rain, the swirling leaves, and yes, even in the grief, the cancer, the depression, the anxiety, the budget, the exams, the hospital, and in the stillness. Emmanuel. God is with us. Jesus entered the human timeline through the consent of a young woman and remains within us still.
God is here with us in history, in future, and in present. Even in our tempest. Even in our stillness. God is present. And in the impossible, in the season of busy-ness and of requests for our ‘end of year donations’, our attention, our resources of time, talent, and treasure, we are called to turn to that presence. We are called to find ways to find God. Emmanuel – God is with us. The Messiah, the Saviour, love itself came to us in the midst of our travails. As Mary labored and angels descended, love came. LOVE is here. Love is with us. Emmanuel – God is with us.