At Thanksgiving, many Oklahoma families are divided based on whether they wear Crimson and Cream or Orange and Black. This division is just part of growing up an Okie. You are either good or evil . . . a Sooner or a (well you get the idea). At Christmas time, families also divide, only in December they don’t divide on school colors, they divide on WHEN they celebrate the Christmas holiday. Some families are Christmas morning families. Others are Christmas Eve families. I grew up inside a Christmas Eve family. Not that we didn’t have great Christmas days (we certainly did), but as far as the main gift exchange, it occurred on Christmas Eve night after attending the Christmas Eve service together as a family.
We could start opening presents together as a family as soon as we got home from church and I could hardly wait. I enjoyed the Christmas Eve service and loved the chance to sing Christmas carols standing with my family and see the last candle lit on the Advent wreath. These were great services, but knowing that once the service was over, we could go home and open presents, I was always looking for our family’s exit strategy. Sit in the wrong seat, and end up making chit chat in the lobby for 20 minutes after the service. Those 20 minutes could feel like an eternity to 7 year old Mark, so I had come up with a sure fire way to get us out of church chop chop. Here is what I did:
At the church we attended growing up, we would always end Christmas Eve service by celebrating communion together. In our church tradition at the time, we would come forward to receive the bread and the cup and as soon as you had taken these elements, you were free to stop and pray at the altar or leave the service and go home. This set up was the crack in the system I could exploit to get us home and under the tree. I always wanted our family to sit at the front . . . not to take in the Pastor’s sermon, but so that we would be first in line for communion and also first out the door and headed home. As a kid, Christmas and Communion had very little to do with each other. Sadly, I saw this sacrament only as an exit strategy for my family instead of as an on ramp to worship.
In case you are wondering, my parents did a wonderful job of raising me in a Christian home and we attended a great church, it is just that for a little guy, I did not really “get it” yet.
As I look back on this experience as an adult, I see the incredible connection between the manger and the manna.
In Luke 22:14-20 Jesus first instituted the Lord’s Supper with His disciples. 2,000 years later, we still celebrate this meal as a church:
And when the hour came, He reclined at table, and the apostles with Him. And He said to them, “I have earnestly desired to eat this Passover with you before I suffer. For I tell you I will not eat it until it is fulfilled in the kingdom of God.” And He took a cup, and when He had given thanks He said, “Take this, and divide it among yourselves. For I tell you that from now on I will not drink of the fruit of the vine until the kingdom of God comes.” And He took bread, and when He had given thanks, he broke it and gave it to them, saying, “This is my body, which is given for you. Do this in remembrance of me.” And likewise the cup after they had eaten, saying, “This cup that is poured out for you is the new covenant in my blood.
The bread and the wine were physical visible reminders of the way in which mankind relates to God our Father. It is only through the death of Christ that our sins can be forgiven, and it is only through His resurrection that we have eternal life. The physical elements of bread and cup reveal and remind of the spiritual realities of our new covenant in Christ.
In a similar way, the physical birth of Jesus accomplished much to remind us:
- of God’s understanding of life on this planet,
- His presence with us in this life,
- His commitment to helping us understand who He is, and
- His work to reconcile us to Himself.
The physical Body of Christ being born in Bethlehem was a physical reminder of these spiritual blessings.
So, this Christmas season as you celebrate communion, I want you to think about it in a deeper context. I want you to see it, not as an exit strategy to your worship service so you can hurry off to a family meal or gift exchange. I want you to see it as a reminder that God uses the physical to teach us spiritual truth. This is true in the bread and the cup, and it is true in the manger birth.
NOTE: At Wildwood, we will be celebrating the Lord’s Supper in our December 30 worship services.