Sunday, January 11, 2015

Jan. 3, 2015, column
Christmas Eve offers special message
By Mike Haynes
            The cold nights of Dec. 23 and Dec. 24 both radiated warmth for me and my wife, Kathy, and those around us.
            On the eve of Christmas Eve, we joined my mother-in-law, Peggy, in the center of Hillside Christian Church’s modern auditorium, which holds 2,000-plus people, for one of multiple candlelight services on Hillside’s West Campus. Close to that many people were given little white candles as they entered, and we kept them handy as the 19 musicians – singers, guitarists, drummers and a small group of orchestral players – filled the room with high-decibel sound, most of it in the form of rocked-up Christmas music.
Hillside Christian Church West Campus - Amarillo, Texas
            The colorfully lighted stage included 13 drums stacked in three rows eight feet high, with a drummer pounding them to thunderous effect.
            Communion juice and wafers were passed around, and the hour ended with one candle from the stage lighting another, which lighted another, and within a minute or two, we were surrounded by a soft glow.
            I had to glance around to see what the spots of light and the faces looked like. That survey of the faithful made my eyes glisten with moisture.
            The next night, we were in my hometown for the communion service at the Methodist Church. The sanctuary, its walls adorned with stained glass windows that Charles Goodnight brought to the Texas Panhandle more than 100 years ago, welcomed fewer than 100 McLean residents and visitors. Around 25 of them were my extended family.  
            The congregation sang “Joy to the World” with piano accompaniment before some standard responsive readings. Erin Shaw delivered a heartfelt rendition of Leonard Cohen’s “Hallelujah” song with Christmas lyrics.
            Communion on Christmas Eve had the small-town worshippers shuffling up the middle aisle with an option: to go left for a piece of bread to dip in a cup of juice or right for a wafer and small cup.

First United Methodist Church - McLean, Texas
           The services both nights concluded with that calmest of songs, “Silent Night.” The second time around, I teared up the same as the night before, this time thinking of the close family and community bonds represented in the pews around me.
            At Hillside, we blew out our candles before exiting to the wintry air. At McLean, some of us knelt at the altar before going home to gifts and Christmas trees.
            It was a megachurch on the 23rd and a country church on the 24th, and I’m sure some people would prefer one to the other. I like both even though the music and worship styles swerve in different directions.
            You would expect similar messages, but I was pleased to hear on both nights a slightly different take on the Christmas story. On Tuesday, Hillside associate senior pastor Johnathan Mast read from Luke 2 about the baby Jesus coming to Earth 2,000 years ago. But he expanded the theme to talk about the other bookend of history, the anticipated second time that Christ will descend to the planet.
            In his low-key way, Johnathan reminded us of the reason, not so much for the season, but for Jesus coming to save us and how that process continues until his return.
            On Wednesday, I’m sure I saw tears welling up in the eyes of my cousin Thacker Haynes, pastor of the Methodist Church, as he recounted the love God had for us in sending Christ on that same mission that Johnathan had outlined. Thacker told us about a man who, just that week, had been desperate for personal help and how the local church happened to have a program for just such a need.
            Along with that example of God’s love and provision, Thacker also mentioned that promised second coming of Christ. In both of those services, the pastors urged us to look back but also ahead.
            Christians too often get caught up in differences – praise music and electric guitars vs. traditional hymns and organs, casual worship vs. ritual, wafers vs. chunks of bread, big churches vs. little churches.

            At Christmas and all year, maybe we could try to focus instead on the story that began in a manger but will climax with a triumphant return.