On Christmas Eve, there is always one Prodigal son or daughter who slips in hoping to be invisible. One prodigal who sits in the back, near the door ready to make a hasty escape.
There is always one prodigal who has been battered by life’s storms, who has squandered themselves and their inheritance in some way…one prodigal who is lost and desperately hopes to be found…
or to find…
On Christmas Eve there is one Prodigal who has returned even if it is only to sip the bitter dregs or nibble on the crumbs under the master’s table.
I watch for the Prodigals on Christmas because Christmas Eve isn’t really for the faithful, the members, the committee activists, the Sunday regulars…
Christmas Eve is for Jesus’ lost lambs, the ones who creep inside hoping to find refuge, sanctuary, room in the inn, maybe even a glimpse of mystery…
But most of all…
…hoping to find home.
Unfortunately, like Esau, some are quick to judge the returning Prodigals. After all, where were they when the hard work needed to be done? Where were they when the fields were being plowed, seeds sown, crops tended, and the harvest was brought in?
Why do they deserve the fatted calf?
I’m glad I can’t remember the name some church folk use for those who only come on Christmas and Easter, because I watch for the Prodigals on Christmas Eve…
…slipping in late, sitting alone in the shadows of the back row. I watch for them and I smile and I wave whether I am reading or singing or praying. I don’t stop or call on them or call them out…
I just I watch for them and I smile and wave so they know that they are not invisible…they are seen…they are welcome…and I am happy they have come.
At the end of the service, when we have sung Silent Night, Holy Night, and each of us has lifted our small light up to fill the darkened sanctuary with our combined and holy light, that’s when I move towards the darkness in the back of the church.
And like every parent of a prodigal, I smile and open my arms wide, meeting them in the shadows where they hide…
And in they come..
For the space of a hug and a heartbeat.
Sometimes there are whispered, rushed stories of illness, death, elder care, jobs lost, jobs found, a move, a divorce…
There are always apologies that I brush away like the wisps of sacred smoke swirling around us.
Just glad to see you
Glad you’ve come.
Sometimes there are quiet tears…or deep sighs…sometimes there is simply silence.
Then they sigh and smile and slip away into the quiet, soft, darkness of Christmas Eve night.
To come again..
…or never come again.
What matters is this…
On Christmas Eve, a moment of Christ’s peace beyond understanding was offered and received.
A breath of hope was inhaled between smiles.
A spark of joyful reunion and a moment of unconditional love was exchanged.
For the space of a hug and a heartbeat,
…a Prodigal found their way home.