Pastor David Eisenhuth
There was a small restroom adjacent to the pastor’s sacristy at Holy Comforter’s building on York Road in Baltimore. It was affectionately known as the “pastor’s potty.” It really was not exclusive to me, but because of its location hardly anyone but those vesting in my sacristy used it. It was always unlocked.
One Christmas Day, just before our 10 a.m. Eucharist was about to begin, I went to the restroom to wash my hands. The door was closed. I thought that was unusual because it was always open unless it was occupied. Everyone was in the church waiting for the service to start. I opened the door and there I saw a heavy-set man with a crop of white hair and a long beard. He was stark naked. He was washing himself in the sink.
I had lots of questions. Who was he? How did he get into the building? The outside doors were always locked on days when there would be few worshippers and those who came had to be buzzed in via a side entrance. Was he homeless? I didn’t know what to say to him except Merry Christmas.
He wished me the same and after a short pause I told him that our service was about to start and he would be welcome to join us. Since he was in such a delicate state of undress I figured he would not be able to do this. I then told him the service would be over in an hour and at that point we would have to lock the building. He said “Ok.” I left him there and went into the sanctuary to celebrate Holy Communion on the Feast of the Incarnation of Our Lord.
After the service ended I immediately went to the bathroom to see if he was still there. The door was ajar and there was no sign of him at all except that the waste can was filled with the paper towels he had used to dry himself. I spent the whole day thinking about him. It was a snowy and cold Christmas morn. I know I wouldn’t survive two days as a homeless person. Where was he? I hoped he found shelter somewhere. Who was he? That is a question which still resonates in my mind on Christmas Day. I can still see him there at the sink. On first thought, maybe he was Santa Claus. With his white hair and beard, were he decked out in the familiar red suit, he would be the pride of any department store. But there was no red suit, just a pile of nondescript clothing. And Santa Claus would be back at the North Pole on the 25th, resting after delivering all those presents.
While we call it Christmas, the official name is, as I mentioned above, the Incarnation of our Lord. Incarnation means to “take on flesh.” Jesus is born as a child of a human parent, carrying the divine, but appearing in our form. It’s a remarkable notion, unique to Christianity amongst other world religions. It’s also a hugely powerful image that God loves us so much that God came into the world to live amongst us.
Incarnation can take many forms in the life of the church. The love we share with one another and the world is God’s incarnate Word. The bread and wine of the Eucharist are the incarnate body and blood of our Lord. So maybe that man was somehow an incarnate form of what it was we would celebrate shortly after being startled by him in my bathroom? Santa, no. Jesus, maybe.
I don’t know why Jesus would appear to me. Maybe he was just some homeless person who found a door open and he came into the building to warm himself. Finding the empty bathroom, maybe he thought it was a good time to bathe. But just maybe, God was incarnate at that very moment so long ago. Whatever the case, it was a gift to me that has never left my mind.
As we celebrate the wonder of Christmas, I hope we will each realize how we can incarnate—make real—the love of God. Of course we will give gifts to those we love and care about. But may that love extend to the whole world. May joy, peace, kindness, and compassion fill not only Christmas Day but every single day of the year. We might even startle someone with the presence of Jesus’s love in and through our very actions. Merry Christmas indeed!
No one really knows on what day Jesus was actually born. The first recorded date of Christmas being celebrated on December 25 was in 336, during the time of the Roman emperor Constantine, the first Christian Roman emperor. A few years later, Pope Julius declared that the birth of Jesus would henceforth be celebrated on December 25. That date may have been chosen because the winter solstice, the day when there is the shortest time between the rising of the sun and its setting, happens on the December 21 or 22. There was also a Roman festival called Dies Natalis Solis Invicti (The Birth of the Sun) around the same time. It might have been natural for the church to substitute a “son” for the “sun.”
The time preceding Christmas is known as Advent, its exact length determined by the inclusion of four Sundays. This year Advent begins on December 2. The color of the day is blue, a sign of hope. It was at one time purple, as in Lent, because Advent was then looked at a solemn season of repentance culminating in the joy of Christmas. The Advent wreath, with its four blue candles, counts down the time to Christmas. Its origins are somewhat mysterious, but may have to do with a Scandinavian tradition of hanging a wagon wheel from the ceiling and festooning it with greens and candles as a sign that even in the dead of winter spring would soon emerge.
We will have a craft time between the services on Sun- day, December 2. Cookies and lemonade will be served. Make something that will put you in the Christmas Spirit.
Advent Lessons and Carols will be held in All Saints’ Chapel at 7 p.m. on Thursday, December 6. We are more familiar with Lessons and Carols at Christmas. At this service, we will hear several lessons foretelling the coming of the Lord. We will sing our favorite Advent carols. Refreshments will be served after the service.
On Christmas Eve we will have three services:
4 p.m. – Quiet Service of Holy Communion in the sanctuary, which concludes with candle lighting around the Christmas Crib. We will incorporate elements of earlier Christmas celebrations in keeping with our 150th anniversary. The sanctuary is beautiful as the sun sets! Come, get an orange and that special candy you may remember from years past.
7 p.m. – Family Service in Fellowship Hall. Hear Christmas favorites and contemporary music. Candle lighting is part of this service. We also have the ability to show visual clips to help us all understand the meaning of Christ- mas. The celebration of Holy Communion shows us in a very real way how Jesus is present among us still.
10 p.m. – Musical Prelude to prepare us for Christmas.
10:30 p.m. – Festival Service with special music, Holy Communion, and candle lighting. Come see the special deco- rations that have been tucked away in storage for many years!
On December 26, the annual Festival of Historic Houses of Worship will take place. Trinity will be one of the stops. The day will conclude here at Trinity with A Birth With Jazz. This will be our December edition of Jazz Vespers. It will feature some elements from the service of Evening Prayer, but will have readings both secular and sacred. It will feature candle lighting and your favorite carols. Dessert is part of the tour, and will be available up to the start of the service at 7:30 p.m. Our own Jazz quartet will play for the second time.
Christmas goes on for a full 12 days. Given the fact that Christmas starts in stores in September, the world thinks it’s over on the 26th. Not true! Think of the song, “The 12 Days of Christmas.” It ends with Epiphany, January 6, which this year is actually a Sunday. The Magi come to visit the Christmas Crib and leave their presents of gold, frankincense, and myrrh. These gifts prefigure the royal lineage of Jesus, as well as predict his death. We also bless the doors of the church in a special ceremony that begins the liturgy, both downstairs and upstairs. Above the door in chalk we mark this cryptic sign: 20 + C + M + B + 19
What does this mean? You have to come to church that day to find out!