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A Devotion From Pastor Alexa

I was partially raised by a Catholic family; the woman that provided childcare for my family when my parents were working is Catholic. She is a second mother to me, and I am, what she fondly refers to me as, her ‘pretend’ daughter. We love each other deeply, in part, because of what we have in common: our shared faith. 

But there are also differences between us. When I was in college, my home church invited me to preach as I was discerning a call to pastoral ministry. My second family came. And before they side-stepped into the Methodist pew, the Catholics each kneeled, crossing themselves (making the sign of the cross by touching their head, heart, shoulders, then mouth). I smiled. At some point, it seemed a bit strange to me that I didn’t have Christmas traditions with this pretend family of mine, since they were my family, too. And so, for a few years, when I was home from college or seminary, I started joining them for midnight mass on Christmas Eve. After Methodists had all gone home after lighting their candles, the Catholics were still singing, praying, kneeling, and lighting their Christ candles. 

I am, what I sometimes refer to as, ‘A Professional Christian,’ and I have to tell you, Catholic Mass will always be foreign to me. It will never fully be MY tradition, I will never have confidence in navigating the Missal (one of their books in the pew racks); I will never be confident about when it is time to kneel and when it is time to stand. 

Not even in spite of, but partly because of this uncertainty and lack of confidence - attending Midnight Mass at a Catholic Church on Christmas Eve was and is deeply meaningful to me. Not knowing what is to come, not being sure of how this will all pan out, being surprised by the musical and liturgical gifts from people I do not know draws me into the reality of the Christmas story in a way that participating in my own tradition does not. I know we will light our candles and sing Silent Night together, but Mary did not know for sure she would survive the Christ-Child’s delivery; she and Joseph did not know for sure where they would rest their heads as they journeyed to Bethlehem. Did Joseph know how to support his bride-to-be as she gave birth, or was he fumbling along, kneeling more slowly to promptings, like me in the Catholic pews? 

Don’t get me wrong, raising our candles on Christmas Eve together brings tears to my eyes and flutters to my heart EVERY, SINGLE, TIME. I love our traditions, and they draw me into the story in a way that I need, love, and appreciate. If I know all of the surprises, if I am familiar with every movement and song and prayer, I can miss the fumbling, and the trying-to-catch-up and come-around pace of Jesus’ birth story.

Finding a way to engage the story of Christmas each year on my own, in addition to our communal rituals, is vitally important to my spiritual well-being and connection to this central story of our faith. Perhaps for you, this looks like watching a particular movie that draws you in or reorients you to the meaning of this season, or listening to a particular song or album that makes your heart flutter with love and purpose. Perhaps for you, this looks like praying for each recipient of your gifts as you wrap them, or reading through the Christmas story in your Bible as your devotional time. 

How will you connect personally to the Nativity story this year? Wherever and however you do, may it be a blessing!

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