Greetings this wonderful week in Advent, as we prepare to celebrate the birth of Christ. We had a wonderful morning of worship this past Sunday, remembering the work of John the Baptist. We were challenged from the Scriptures that to find God’s peace in our hearts, we must follow John’s example of taking time away to pray and hear from God; decide to follow God wherever He may lead us, and finally to be a living witness to the truth of Jesus’ coming: that He came because of love so we might be reunited with God.
A special birthday was celebrated this week. Our own Eloise Sloan celebrated her 102nd birthday. The congregation celebrated with her by having a card shower and sending her a Christmas rose bouquet. Happy birthday, once again, Eloise!
Many years ago now, in 1991 to be exact, a personal testimony about my Christmas experience was published in the Pentecostal Evangel. I have decided to reproduce it here. If you are experiencing some of the same feelings I had, my hope is that you, too, will turn back to the God who loves you and wants to make you new again. God is waiting to hear from you. Need to talk to someone about making that choice? Contact your pastor or other spiritual leader for help. And you can always feel free to contact me at my e-mail address, on this blog, or on Facebook.
Hushed whispers floated across the candlelit church. I marveled at the crowd. Many of the people lining the pews hadn’t been in church since Easter. It seemed now was the time to make it right. It was Christmas Eve 1974.
As the first peal of the bells rang out, marking the coming of midnight and Christmas Day, the procession to the nativity crèche began. First came the Wise Men and shepherds. Next, Joseph and Mary took their positions. Finally, the moment for which humankind had waited for centuries was portrayed, when the Baby Jesus was placed in the manger. At that moment the massive church bells rang loudly, as if to tell the whole world that Christ had indeed come for His creation.
So it was Christmas Eve in the Roman Catholic church where I grew up. But this year was different. As the organist played and the congregation sang, I could only cry. Try as I might, I couldn’t stop the river of tears that flowed from my eyes onto my new Christmas clothes. Why the tears on this wonderful day?
As a child I was taught that Jesus died for my sins. My immigrant grandmother, Baba, taught me early to love God and the church. I enjoyed going to church. I sang the hymns at the top of my voice, hoping God would hear and accept me. From those early days when my mom and Baba taught me to pray, I rejoiced in an innocent love for God and everything sacred.
Alone in our kitchen I would often hear the sounds of a not-too-distant neighbor’s wind chimes. For me they were a melody of love played by the angels in heaven, music that drew me to worship and love my Jesus. I would dream of standing with the angels at God’s throne. At those times I felt God’s presence and love and returned to Him my love and devotion.
As I grew, I felt God’s call upon my life. I wanted to serve Him. I loved to play church with my friends, and I always wanted to be the priest. I memorized the liturgy. Although I never thought of becoming a nun, I did take my religion seriously.
My teen years, however, were a challenge to my innocent faith. Growing up and realizing the world isn’t a pristine garden caused disillusionment and confusion. The call to be my own person drew me away from the faith of my childhood.
And there I was—Christmas Eve 1974. Seventeen years old, about to graduate from high school, and I couldn’t stop crying to sing a Christmas hymn.
Several years and many heartaches later I opened my eyes to the loss that I felt. I missed the faith of my youth. A hollow place in me had once belonged to Jesus Christ and God my Father, but I was sure I couldn’t go back. Day after day, knowing I was away from God, I cried myself to sleep and longed for God’s presence. Lamenting a broken engagement, I longed for the Christian husband for which my grandmother prayed.
I took a job that required moving to another city. I tried to piece together the situations that had brought me to such a place in life, but my despair and loneliness led to more and more partying to avoid the pain.
There was a bright spot, however. A young woman on my staff seemed happy and always carried a Bible. I started to ask her questions about God and how to know Him. Through her I found that Jesus had died for my sins and that I could do nothing to earn forgiveness—it was a free gift. I saw in her a joy and a love for God that I remembered experiencing a long time ago.
One late night in July the truth of the Scriptures and of salvation were opened clearly to me. My sin separated me from God, but Jesus’ blood—the blood of that same Jesus who was so close to me in childhood—was still effective to cleanse and forgive sin. I asked Him to live with me again—this time forever—and I was born again at 2:30 a.m. on July 24, 1979.
Christmas Eve 1979, I worshiped Christ and celebrated His coming anew. Everything had changed.
How could I have known on that same day five years earlier that my tears came from a massive divide between me and the God I loved so dearly? How could I have understood that going to church and knowing the ropes wasn’t enough—that He wanted my entire heart?
Now I knew. As we sang the hymns of Christmas I cried, but this time I understood. As I celebrated Christ’s coming, I wept for joy at the new person I had become. This time I wouldn’t grow out of faith; I would grow deeper into it.
Have you walked away from the faith of your childhood? Jesus is there to receive you back. Ask Him to forgive your sins and make you God’s own child.
This year as you celebrate Christmas, remember that Jesus wants your whole heart. He wants to unite you with your Heavenly Father through His own blood.
This Christmas, may you celebrate the coming of Jesus Christ not only in your home, but also in your heart.
Originally published December 22, 1991, Pentecostal Evangel
Pastor Mary Kay