Sunday, December 14, 2008

Six Flags Over Jesus

Last night I went to the dress rehearsal for the Living Christmas Tree at the church we’ve been attending here in Northern Virignia. I didn’t want to go, but three of my kids (Nadine-13, Maddy-11, and Mark-9) are singing in the children’s choir, so it was my parental duty to attend at least one night of the big show. And what a big show it was! A hundred singers were arranged like ornaments in a 25-foot tree with over 20,000 synchronized lights.

Those of you who know me know that I like traditional worship with a liturgical bent. I’d rather sing the doxology than praise choruses, and I consider Fanny Crosby contemporary Christian music. (OK, I'm exaggerating slightly, but you get the idea.) I was dreading going to this evangelistic extravaganza with its over-the-top glitz and sappy Gospel drama set in Marge’s Beauty Shop. As the performance began, the lights in the sanctuary went down and a spotlight shone on the pastor, wearing a tuxedo and looking more like an emcee than a minister.

Hundreds of hours and I don’t want know how many thousands of dollars went into the production. I wouldn’t want to disparage the good intentions and hard work of all those involved, including my children. However, as I was groping to find a way to describe this event that seemed more suitable for Branson, Missouri than a First Church of one of the most sophisticated cities in America, a colleague suggested just the right descriptive: Six Flags Over Jesus.

All of my high-church, liturgical friends are getting a good laugh at this point, but some of you, including my wife and kids, are probably thinking, “But I like Six Flags!” Lots of people do. And many see no problem with a little razzle-dazzle in church. Worship style is a matter of preference to most people (Is it really?), and I’m probably sounding like a sanctified snob right now. But there was something that deeply impressed me about this evening.

The church opened its doors free of charge to hundreds of special needs children, adults, and their families. Before the Living Christmas Tree all were treated to a pizza dinner in the fellowship hall, which was decked out with enough Christmas cheer to set tiny tots eyes aglow, including a giant candy cane made out of red and white helium balloons that stretched across the ceiling. Singers sang Jingle Bells, Frosty the Snowman, and even (gasp!) Santa Claus Is Coming To Town, and one of the pastors went around in a Christmas novelty hat that wiggled, and flashed, and made music. I cracked a smile in spite of myself. But what melted my Grinch-like heart was not the Christmas decorations, music, or festive atmosphere. It was the compassion I saw the church members show these “special friends” and their families—bringing them food and drinks, taking them to the rest rooms, talking and laughing with them. Jesus said, “Inasmuch as ye have done it unto one of the least of these my brethren, ye have done it unto me” (Matthew 25:40).

If someone asks me where I’ve seen the presence of God lately, I’m going to say with a smile, “At Six Flags Over Jesus!”

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