I had to work last night. Instead of going to church or having part in a Christmas eve service, I ran the front desk at the hotel where I work part time while going to seminary. From 3-11 p.m. I hung out, not with family, not with a congregation, not even with baby Jesus but instead with co-workers and random hotel guests. It was surprisingly beautiful. After I got home from work, I tweeted, “Tonight I saw Christmas eve from the vantage point of the inn keeper. Humbling, insightful, and kind of sad working at a hotel sometimes.”
Along with the usual hotel stuff, I fielded questions from guests wondering where the closest open bar was or where could they go to buy more alcohol. I was also asked a couple times if the casino was still open. Guests offered me dinner leftovers, delicious Christmas treats and even beer. One little girl brought her new doll van to the front desk because she knew I wanted to see it. (She had borrowed scissors from the desk to cut a toy out of the box and as I gave them to her, I asked her what the toy was. She was very cute.) I missed being home with Steve. Even more, I missed being at a candle light Christmas eve church service. I also appreciated the people around me and being able to be part of their Christmas celebrations.
There were excited greetings and reunions in the lobby as family members arrived for gatherings. At one point, a co-worker came to the front desk and in mock awe said, “Santa is out by the pool. SANTA!” My heart cheered for the elderly gentleman who finally had guests show after watching him pace by the front door and look outside every 15 minutes. “Maybe they’re just running late?” I had gently suggested earlier after he asked me for the third time if anyone had been at the desk looking for him. “I’m almost ready to make some calls and see if I can round us some friends and family for this guy,” I told my coworker quietly in between two of his rounds.
I couldn’t help but think of the parable Jesus tells in Luke 14 about the dinner guests who offer excuses for why they can’t come. “Come, for everything is ready now.” Is God a little like the old man pacing in the lobby, waiting for his friends to come to the party. When the originally invited guests don’t show the master in the parable tells his servant, “Go out into the highways and along the hedges, and compel them to come in, so that my house may be filled.”
This is what gets me a little choked up about Christmas Eve: the mystery of incarnation. My newly found nerdy Church history love would like to delve into Christology (which is a fancy word for trying to figure out how Jesus could be both God and human in one person). I would like to dive into some of the historical debates and writings where we could look at how, exactly, it works that Jesus can save us from sin or maybe we could try to pinpoint when exactly Jesus began to exist as Jesus. All semester in church history we looked at how the understanding of who Jesus is evolved through great church thinkers. Somehow baby Jesus is a little cooler to me after going through class!
Last night, I marveled over the Christmas miracle. I quietly nerded out in my head and heart. I couldn’t help but wonder if any of the other hotel guests were feeling the same sort of awe that I was feeling. My heart broke as a couple people seemed so desperate to find a bar or to get to a casino. My soul screamed “YOU ARE MISSING THE POINT!”
I talked briefly with a mom who had just taken her kids to be with their dad for the night. Joint custody of kids on Christmas is a tough thing. Is that how Mary felt when Jesus died on the cross? “He’s going back to see his dad.” Did Joseph feel like a stepdad?
I wanted to invite the hotel guests back to the central part of the Christmas story. Not the leg lamp, not the Santa we were tracking on google, not even the part where family gathers and shares delicious cookies or the part where you try not to drip wax from the Christmas eve candle on your hand during Silent Night… I wanted to invite people into the story of God sending a begotten, not made son to Earth. This son, fully human and fully divine, lived as we live but in pure holiness. I wanted to invite the hotel people back into church, so they could be part of a congregation striving to understand the gospel and working towards sharing that with everyone. I wanted to share with the sad guests and the drunk guests that God has a plan to break us out of here.
Christmas is ridiculously cool. I’m excited to eventually lead worship on Christmas eve. I look forward to Steve and I setting traditions for how we celebrate Christmas together as a family. This year of working at the hotel on Christmas was an anomaly but also invaluable in the lessons I learned. The longing to reach out to people who would rather go to a casino than to church and the desire to share how the birth of Jesus changes EVERYTHING will stay with me. Years from now as I’m taking part in Christmas eve worship at church, I’ll be wondering about the people who aren’t there and hoping they receive the message of a newborn king.
I woke up this morning and just had to share this. Merry Christmas! If you’d like to talk about the Council of Nicea and give me a chance to namedrop Athanasius, I’m game. Right after Steve and I open up a bunch of presents….