A Necessary and Honest Confession

I can be pretty harsh and judgmental, especially about things related to liturgy. I hate congregations that haven’t learned a new hymn in thirty years (unless it’s truly a rock-the-rafters or tug-the-heartstrings classic). Some of my harshest criticisms focus on mediocre preaching — and in my opinion there is plenty of it our there!  And that’s not all.

Another pet peeve that irritates me are lectors who do a crappy job of proclaiming the Scriptures. Too often they seem unprepared and clueless about what they are reading. Too often that’s what it is — just reading, and it may as well be the weather report or assembly instructions for your Weber grill.

Today I found my hackles rising and my stomach tighten as the lector rattled off the Old Testament reading. I was really annoyed when he then reappeared to do the reading from Paul’s Letter to the Ephesians. Then something happened! It was external, not something I initiated. I heard, “Stop! Just stop!”

The images of the first Christmas, not the one just celebrated, flashed back. Simplicity. Poverty. Away from home. A simple, insignificant young woman. A nobody carpenter. Events occurring, not in cosmopolitan Jerusalem, but quietly nine miles away in the backwater outpost, Bethlehem.  World-shattering events, done poorly by my sophisticated standards.

If I cannot hear the Word proclaimed in a hurry, without polish, less than perfectly I would most certainly pass right by the inauspicious stable of Jesus’ actual birth! At least that’s what I heard when I was asked to stop my harsh, judgmental criticisms.

Then I heard something else, not a judgment but an invitation. A consoling voice reminding me that the most polished oration is no match for simple living.  A gentle questioner whispered, “How’re you doing with giving flesh, embodying, living the Word?” I felt exposed, though not embarrassed; admonished, but with my self esteem intact.

For the first time this season I really experienced Christmas — God’s Word laboring to take flesh in our world. Yes, even in me!