The altar rail where we gather to receive communion is a mystical, miraculous and messy place. I still can feel the blush of embarrassment when on an Easter morning as a new chalice bearer I spilled more than a few drops of red wine down the front of someone dressed in their Easter Sunday best. Talk about a mess. And that is just one of many bloopers that I have witnessed at the altar rail.
But I would also contend that the altar rail is a mystical place where heaven and earth meet and miracles occur. I have seen it. People reach out to receive the gift of bread and wine and are suddenly overcome by a mystical meeting with God. I am certain that I have witnessed more than a few tears of genuine revelation and shared in a few moments of real conversion. And such mystical miraculous moments can happen to the one giving the gift as much as to those who receive it.
I remember one time when I was administering the bread and I approached a mother holding her newborn baby. As is my custom I knelt down to offer God’s blessing to her baby. As I reached out my hand to make a cross over her child, the baby suddenly reached out and took hold of my finger. And she would not let go. “Your baby has quite a grip on me.” We shared a hushed laugh. That baby would not let go of my finger. And if you will allow me a bit of sentimental honesty, I did not want her to let go. And that is when sentiment became sacred. For just an instant, there was a mystical meeting with God.
"Do not be afraid; for see-- I am bringing you good news of great joy for all the people: to you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, who is the Messiah, the Lord.”
As we make our way once more to the Christmas manger, it too is a very mystical and messy place. Whether that manger was in a cave, tent or shed, it must have been messy. But in the midst of the mess, there was a miracle. A place where heaven and earth meet. And there too, we will approach a mother holding her newborn baby. A baby who is reaching out for us.
At Christmas we celebrate not just the birth of a child, but what this child offers to each and to all. “God so loved the world that God gave us this child.” This baby has come into the world to reach out to us, take hold of us and never let go.
At Christmas, God makes the decision to share our human nature. God risks everything to live and die as one of us. To take hold of us and in so doing to reconcile us with God. God has reached out and taken hold of us, and God will not let us go. And if you have ever felt let go…if you have ever felt given up on…if you have ever walked in the land of deep darkness then you know in your soul how important it is…. to know that you are not alone.
The grip of God’s love is strong and has got you. And given all in this world that tries to divide us, isolate us, polarize us, that is indeed good news of great joy.
So, I invite you, in the name of the church, to make your way once more to the manger. Whether that manger is in Apalachicola, Eufaula Coden, Monroeville, Pensacola or somewhere in between or beyond, lets us go with the shepherds to that mystical place where heaven and earth meet. Wherever you find yourself this Christmas, whether it be in church or watching a service online, whether kneeling at an altar rail or kneeling in your home take a moment to keep watch for God and give thanks for the gift of love given to us in the incarnation.
May the life born to us in this baby we know as Christ Jesus, fill you with praise and hope.
May the mystery and miracle of Christmas take hold of your life once again.
And may the grip of God’s love embolden you to go forth and take hold of this world in the name of the love.
A blessed Christmas to you.