On December 19, I had the privilege of preaching at a very special carol service in Westminster Abbey. The 2,000-strong congregation included civil servants, ambassadors, cabinet ministers and other politicians. The choir was magnificent; trumpeters from the Grenadier guards and the rich organ music made you feel like you were at a coronation event. The pageantry was something to behold with the processions and clergy in their ornate vestments. The readings and carols powerfully told the Christmas story. And the cathedral itself? Awesome! Obviously its architect really believed in giving his “utmost for the highest.” The whole scene, the whole event was unforgettable.
Since then I have been thinking of the little New Aberdeen corps in Canada where I grew up. It was a far, far cry from Westminster Abbey. Visually, there is no comparison. Our songsters could never compete with the cathedral singers; our pageantry was the nativity play with housecoats and towels as headdresses. The vestments were Army uniforms, the music by our little band. Yet in that two-room, dilapidated building, I truly experienced Christmas. Ever since, the coming of Jesus has been an occasion to celebrate.
Since writing to you in October, it seems as though I have been around the world. I visited Florida, in the USA Southern Territory, then Toronto and St John’s, Newfoundland. In a separate trip I went to Haiti, Jamaica (the Caribbean) and Papua New Guinea. Finally the year was rounded off with a commissioning weekend in the Southern Africa Territory. (If you haven’t read about these trips in more detail, please check out our International News Releases on the Army’s website or in your territorial news bulletins). The occasions differed, the venues were certainly diverse and the style of worship varied. Such contrasts! Yet, the reality of God’s presence could never be underestimated. Jesus explained it simply when the woman at the well envisioned worship as connected with tradition, building or geography. No, “God is Spirit and his worshippers must worship in spirit and in truth,” our Lord explained (John 4:24).
Often we think we capture life by what we see but sometimes physical sight limits real vision. This Christmas you may not be sharing in the drama of the Christmas story in a cathedral. But you can meet with Immanuel, God with us. That significant encounter may take place at your corps, in your home, by yourself or with others. You may live in Africa, America, Asia, Europe or the South Pacific. But it does not depend on the place, not even the atmosphere. Christmas comes again and again when your heart is open to receive the gracious invitation of the One who has come to dwell in you.
May his presence today light up your home and your heart. God bless you richly.
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