Christmas light, shining into the new year

by Emily Ralph,

New Hope Baltimore
Friends from Pennsylvania share the gift of music with guests at New Hope Baltimore's Christmas dinner.

Ubaldo Rodriguez, pastor of New Hope, Baltimore, stood in the Walmart parking lot on Christmas afternoon, at a loss.  Even in the midday light, there was a hovering shadow.  What were they going to do?

Weeks earlier, he and his congregation had received a call from a family in Pennsylvania who wanted to join them on Christmas to serve the homeless in their community.  The family was going to bring all the food—what a wonderful way to celebrate Christmas!

So Rodriguez invited fifty people to share the love of God—and Christmas dinner—with them.  The dinner was set for 2pm on Christmas afternoon at Wilkens Avenue Mennonite Church.

Just past noon on Christmas Day, however, they made a shocking discovery—the food from Pennsylvania had spoiled on the trip.  How were they going to feed their guests?  They went to the supermarket, to Walmart—everything was closed.  It was Christmas, after all.

Franconia Live Nativity
Franconia shares a live nativity with the community.

Now, as they stood in the parking lot at Walmart, trying to figure out some way to redeem this Christmas, they received a phone call.  A member of Wilkens Avenue who owned a restaurant had come to the dinner—with enough food to feed fifty people.

In that moment, Rodriguez and his congregation experienced a real Christmas miracle.  There was a light shining in the darkness.

And it was a light that could not be quenched.  All throughout Franconia Conference this Christmas, congregations stood alongside Christ as light in the darkness.

2011 Souderton Christmas Parade
MIddle School students from Penn View walk in the Souderton Christmas Parade

Franconia (Pa) congregation kept watch in a live nativity during the week leading up to Christmas, providing soup, hot dogs, cookies, and hot chocolate for their visitors.  Middle school students from Penn View Christian School (Souderton, Pa) took their live nativity on the road, walking in the Souderton Christmas Parade.

Plains (Hatfield, Pa) has a yearly tradition of caroling at the Montgomeryville Mall, an event that always draws crowds and participation from bystanders who can’t help but join in the breathtaking harmonies.  This year, they also hosted a gift exchange for Manna on Main Street, a Lansdale (Pa) soup kitchen, providing gifts for almost 450 children.

Christmas gift exchange at Plains
Plains partnered with Manna on Main Street to distribute gifts to local children.

Upstate at Whitehall, the light was particularly bright on Christmas Eve, when the Christ candle in the Advent wreath was finally lit after a long season of waiting.  The woman who carried the candle up the aisle battles mental illness.  She lit the Christ candle and proclaimed, “Arise, shine, for your light has come!”  The congregation stood and responded, “The light shines in the darkness . . . and the darkness has not overcome it.”

Christmas Eve is only the beginning—the Christ has arrived and continues to walk with his people through times of darkness and difficulty.  This is why Whitehall also celebrated Ebenezer Sunday the week after New Year’s.

The congregation brought in a big stone like the one the prophet Samuel erected while Israel was battling the Philistines (1 Samuel 7).  Members of the congregation wrote on the stone, listing the good and hard times that God has led them through.  The stone will sit as a memorial of God’s faithfulness, first inside the sanctuary and then later in the church garden—an Ebenezer, their “stone of help,” for “Thus far has God helped us” (vs 12).

A stone of help from Whitehall's Ebenezer Sunday

The light of Christmas shines into the new year—through darkness, uncertainty, and fear.

And the darkness has not overcome it.

“We praise the Lord for his continued love for people [and] his provision,” said Rodriguez, reflecting on his Christmas miracle.  But he acknowledged that the love, provision, and light are not just for us to enjoy, but to extend to all people.  “I hope we continue to share in practical ways with others the gift given to us all,” he said, “the gift of love, hope, and joy from our Lord Jesus Christ.”

Has your congregation had a meaningful service or event?  Are you planning something special?  Send stories and photos to Emily or let us know what is coming up!